COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Members of the Ohio House of Representatives have approved a local politician's proposal to allow hunters to use silencers on their guns.
In a 76-15 vote Wednesday, house members voted in favor of House Bill 234. The legislation will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
Silencers, or suppressors, are used to muffle or diminish the sound of a firearm. While they’re illegal for hunting in the state, suppressors are legal for Ohio residents to own.
Their popularity has skyrocketed in Ohio in the last year. The state ranks fourth in the nation for the most registered suppressors, with more than 25,000 legally owned, according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
State Representatives John Becker (R-Union Township) and Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) introduced the bill in July after they were approached by hunters who claim to have hearing damage caused by their non-suppressed firearms.
“This bill only has to do with the hearing loss to hunters,” said Becker.
Jeff Mann, a 54-year-old Hamilton resident who has been a hunter for more than 40 years, said he now has trouble hearing because of damage caused by using non-suppressed guns.
“Every time you shoot without hearing protection, it damages your hearing,” said Mann. “It’s like people who go to a lot of rock concerts. “
Mann, an assistant manager at Target World in Sharonville, and many other hunters choose not to wear hearing protection while they’re in the woods.
“You have to use all five senses to be a true hunter. It’s a skill,” he said. “You may not be alone and you need to know if you hear somebody moving around you or off to your side. Every year there are hunters killed because instead of identifying their target and what is beyond it, they’ll hear something and it may be another hunter.”
Bill opponents have the same fear but worry that the suppressor—rather than the hearing protection—would cause the problem.
“Our concern is that (the suppressor) disguises the fact that there is a firearm being shot some place,” said Amy Pulles, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.
Pulles worries that hunters won't be able to hear each other and that hikers won't have warning if a hunter is near.
Local state representatives Denise Driehaus (D-Clifton Heights) and Roland Winburn (D-Dayton) voted against the legislation Wednesday, although no representative spoke against the bill on the House floor.
"I think it's dangerous," said Winburn in February. "This is a misuse of the noise suppressor and it places other hunters who are actually on the field hunting in a dangerous, precarious situation."
Winburn expressed concern that farmers wouldn't be able to hear when poachers are on their land.
Brandon Kern, director of policy at the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the bureau does not have an official position on the issue.
A House committee advanced the bill last month with little opposition after representatives and their aides heard a demonstration of the weapons shot with and without a suppressor.
Is a silencer silent?
The scene is common in Hollywood movies -- a person shoots a gun with a silencer attached and nothing is heard.
"There is a misconception about how loud these things are because of Hollywood movies," said Becker. "There will be machine guns with a silencer and all you hear is a wisp of air."
That's why more than 20 representatives and their aides gathered at a Columbus area shooting range in February to shoot the firearms with and without a suppressor.
They invited Eric Bielefeld, a speech and hearing science professor at The Ohio State University, to read and analyze the decibel ranges of the suppressed and non-suppressed guns.
Bielefeld, who claims to have no position on the legislation and was not paid to attend the event, said it's likely that a non-suppressed gun could damage a person's hearing over time.
"Since the suppressor is reducing the overall sound level that the rifle is creating, you're going to have a reduced chance of getting hearing loss," he said. "That peak level -- that pow level is going to be lesser in intensity."
But that "pow level" wasn't silent.
"We found a substantial reduction in sound intensity by 15 to 20 decibels (when a suppressor was used), but not so much that it would be even called quiet," said Bielefeld. "The concern that you wouldn't know if someone was nearby shooting one of those weapons is not realistic. The sound intensity is still very high."
Bielefeld compared the suppressed sound, which measured around 100 decibels, to turning the volume up fully on an mp3 player and putting the headphones in your ears. For comparison, he said, the sound of a lawn mower measures around the 90 decibel range. A rock concert measures
around 110 decibels.
He said the rifle shot without the suppressor measured around the 120 decibel range.
"That's the equivalent to a jet plane taking off," he said.
WCPO went to a local shooting range to compare the sound of a suppressed and non-suppressed hunting rifle for ourselves. Watch the video above to hear the difference.