The tragic massacre in Las Vegas which left nearly 60 dead and hundreds wounded has reignited calls for gun control. None other than Hillary Clinton called for as much in a series of tweets.
The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 2, 2017
Clinton is referring to the Hearing Protection Act, which would, among other things, eliminate a $200 tax on firearm suppressors. The tweet is transparent political opportunism, but the underlying logic manifests a dangerous and fundamental misunderstanding of the situation.
The Las Vegas shooting is a tragedy, and a senseless loss of human life. The politicization of such a tragedy, especially so soon after the event, is reprehensible. However, the ideas espoused by Clinton and other gun control advocates are dangerous, misleading, politically-motivated, and necessitate a reasoned response.
At first bluff, Clinton's contention that a suppressor ("silencer" is a misnomer – there is no way to "silence" the delivery of almost 2,000 joules of energy) would have made the Vegas shooter deadlier might seem intuitive. After all, the natural reaction of anyone is to run away from the sound of gunfire. However, two things render her contention inane: echoes, and how suppressors actually work.
Many reports of the shooting indicate the crowd fleeing, and scrambling for cover "amid chaos and confusion about where the shots were coming from." Yes, even though Paddock's weapon was unsupressed, the people on the street were unable to discern where the shots were coming from by the sound. The reason why is clear: Watch any video where the gunshots can be heard, the echoes are equally deafening and bounce off buildings, down alleys, and off the pavement. The chaotic cacophony of urban gunfighting is the very reason law enforcement and the military have depended on sophisticated gunfire location systems for years.
To put it simply: A suppressor makes little difference in determining the direction of the sound.
Next, the use of the term "silencer" is a signal that the speaker is understandably misinformed about how firearm suppressors work. A typical firearm suppressor will reduce the muzzle report by about 30 decibels.
For reference, a typical AR-15 will have a muzzle report of 167dB. With a suppressor, this goes down to 137dB, still louder than an unsupressed 22 caliber rifle, which develops about 130dB. For comparison, the threshold of pain is generally considered 110dB, or the pleasant sound of an automobile horn firing into your ear. Another example of a sound developing 130dB is that of a fighter jet taking off from an aircraft carrier.
Again, a fighter jet taking off is quieter than the typical suppressed AR-15. It is safe to say that nobody on the deck of an aircraft carrier has ever been taken by surprise by a fighter jet taking off.
In short, even with a suppressor, firearms are still incredibly freaking loud. Yes, weaker ammunition can make a firearm quieter, but to get to a noise level that is not easily detectable would require muzzle energy that bordered on non-lethal beyond several yards. If a firearm is made undetectably quiet, it would likely be less lethal than high-end BB guns available at sporting goods stores.
Contentions like Clinton's are the reason people in all corners of the political spectrum are justifiably suspicious of policy claims made in the wake of a disaster. Words such as "terror," "assault weapon," and the like are all designed to appeal to emotion, not reason. If we, as a people, want to find real solutions to the issue of violence and spree killings, we must act with reason, not fervor. This requires actually understanding the reality of the situation and the implications of proposed solutions.
However, one has good reason to be suspicious of a supposed dentist who insists on referring to teeth as "ears." Hillary Clinton's tweets make it clear that she does not understand firearm suppressors or the horrifying but nuanced nature of shootings in general.
Because of her demonstrated incompetence on the subject, her ideas do not deserve serious consideration.
Matthew Larosiere holds a J.D. and LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Alabama School of Law and is pending admission to practice law in Florida. He is also a Young Voices advocate.
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