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Sound Suppressors: Addressing a Known Risk

Scenario Number 1:  Your “High Risk Warrant” team boots the door of some unlicensed pharmacy looking for Johnny Loser the Meth Cooker.   Everyone inside the house complies with the “Get down! Get down!” command, except Johnny.  Johnny instead bursts out of the back bedroom with his favorite stolen pistol and opens up on the entry team.   Officers A and B engage Johnny and discharge their M4 carbines.   The .223 TAP loads put Johnny down for the count.

Suzie Methhead, who was proned out on the floor starts screaming.  The team leader gives her commands but she doesn’t respond.  The muzzles of both rifles were less than ten feet from her head when the shots were fired. 

Fast forward six months and your City Attorney brings in a copy of the lawsuit brought by Suzie Methhead’s attorney claiming she now has permanent hearing damage from her close proximity to the gun shots.   “Aha!” you exclaim, exigent circumstances, it could not have been helped.  We were forced to shoot Johnny and had no other recourse so tough luck buddy.     

Another six months passes and the City Treasurer is forced to write a very large check payable to Suzie’s attorney.   You lost. 

B.S. you say?   A tort lawyer’s wet dream?   Before you think so go back to your Constitutional and Tort Law training.    Think back to your elements of a crime:  Purposeful, Knowledgeable, Reckless, and Negligence.  Reckless: willful disregard or failure to heed a known risk.

Tort Lawyer: “Officer, are you qualified to use the rifle with which you shot Johnny Loser?”

Officer:  “Yes, I qualifiy with it twice a year.”

T.L.   “Officer, when you qualify with the rifle do you wear hearing protection?”

Officer:  “Yes, the department mandates earmuffs.”

TL:  “Why?”    Officer:  “Because the noise from a rifle shot can damage your hearing.”

TL:  “Are there devices available and used by some law enforcement agencies to quiet the sound of rifle shot?”

Officer: “Yes, they are called ‘suppressors’.

Okay, I won’t go any farther.  You should get the picture by now.   If the ‘silenced firearm’ had never been patented by Hiram P. Maxim in 1909 then the Tort Lawyer would be S.O.L.  Or, if sound suppressors were not available to any law enforcement agency in the U.S.A. then again he’d be up a creek.  However, the fact is they do exist and many agencies do use them.

The fact that your agency made a conscious decision not to use them could very well land you in hot water and leave you open for litigation.  You don’t need to be first is your class at Harvard to hammer that one through.

Scenario Number 2:  Same circumstance, except the guy proned out on the floor is an undercover narcotics officer.  The detective now has serious permanent hearing damage.   Different parties, same outcome.  The agency failed to protect officers from a known risk and disregarded available hearing safety equipment.

Whether you called them silencers, suppressors or sound moderators, the fact is that these devices muffle and reduce the ear-damaging noise from gunfire.  They are easily available to all U.S. law enforcement agencies.  

If your agency has M4 style rifles in the inventory and you don’t have sound suppressors for them you are ignoring a known risk.   Sorry if it hurts your feelings but that is the case.  The noise generated by a discharging cartridge is a byproduct of the shot.  Noise doesn’t make the bullet more powerful or travel straighter or farther. 

Forget hearing damage, how about the ability to communicate with your fellow officers if a shooting does go down.  The bad guys more than likely won’t have silencers.  If a situation goes sour and all the good guys are suppressed, then any loud, audible gunfire will be coming from the bad guys.   How many SWAT raids have gone bad and the guys outside the building don’t know if the gunfire is friendly or hostile? 

Lastly, don’t give me that “budget is tight” excuse.  Budgets are always tight.  When is the last time the city fathers walked into the Chief’s officer and start throwing hundred dollar bills at him?   

Budgeting is about priorities.  Go to your squad room or cruiser and look at all the gadgets and gizmos you found money for but never use.   If you do decide to address that known risk and want to find high quality noise suppression devices you can check out or

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About The Author:

Mr. Markel  is a former United States Marine, Police Officer, and has worked as a professional bodyguard both in the U.S. and overseas. A Subject Matter Expert on Small Arms and Tactics, Markel has provided instruction to law enforcement and U.S. Military troops.

As a recognized author and writer, Paul has penned several hundred articles published in numerous professional journals and trade periodicals. Topics include firearms training, use of force, marksmanship, less-than-lethal force options, product reviews and evaluations, emergency medical care, and much more. Sought after as a public speaker, Mr. Markel is at home in front of an audience large or small.