Lethality & The Purpose of a Silencer or Suppressor in the Virginia Beach Mass Murder

In a recent online article about the lethality of silencers or suppressors David Chipman, a retired agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commented, “This is the concern we were talking about when Republicans were trying to deregulate silencers as ‘ear protection.” The article noted that Chipman now works as the senior policy adviser for Giffords, a gun-control lobbying group. He elaborated on his views stating, “Especially on a handgun, a suppressor will distort the sound in such a way that it would not immediately be recognizable as gunfire to people who sort of know what that sound is.”

The viewpoint on the other side of the question, expressed the argument that the suspect’s familiarity with the layout of the location and his military background gave him a greater tactical advantage in his attack than his decision to use a silencer. Another retired FBI agent formerly with the FBI’s Hostage Response Team, Gregory Shaffer, opined that, “A suppressor does not alter the lethality of the weapon at all. All it does is just limit the noise it makes. It doesn’t increase the rate of fire. It doesn’t do anything other than make it more comfortable to shoot because it’s not so loud.”

Former FBI agent Shaffer’s last comment is ignorant and self-serving to his preferred and NRA-endorsed opinion, at best, and absurdly ridiculous and dishonest at worst. It ignores and is designed to conceal and deceive people about the fundamental and very important fact about why silencers or suppressors for handguns or rifles were designed to begin with; how and why they were initially adopted for use, and used by the military and intelligence/assassination services throughout the world. It also flies in the face of the reasons that silencers were initially illegal to possess by average citizens, and still are prohibited in many countries. There is only one combination of legitimate purposes for the silencer’s existence — killing people with a degree of stealth, suppressing detection by others, maximizing the body count before being engaged by law enforcement or other armed individuals, and/or allowing more time for the shooter to escape before they are detected as the perpetrator and their crime detected.

More importantly, perhaps, is it fails to acknowledge or address why this shooter, or any mass murderer, would choose to use a silencer in carrying out the slaughter of innocent souls. Was this suspect so concerned about the “assault” on his hearing from the loud report of his weapon as he gunned down each of his victims? Or perhaps he didn’t want to damage the hearing of his intended targets, and those he only wounded or missed. Shaffer is absolutely correct when he says a suppressor does not enhance the performance of lethality of the weapon, itself, nor does it increase the rate of fire, and it does “just limit the noise it makes.” And the fact that it alters and suppresses the noise of the gun’s report absolutely increases the lethality of the attacker and his tactical advantage by masking the sound many people immediately recognize as gunfire. Many people often report dismissing unsuppressed gunfire as just firecrackers or a backfire, until they see bloodied people running toward them. A natural initial human reaction to unexpected events is disbelief and rationalization of what they are seeing or hearing as not possible. Every potential victim, unaccustomed to the sound of silenced or suppressed gunfire, who does not react by fleeing becomes easy prey for a systematic murderer intent on killing as many people until he is inevitably stopped by police or another armed individual, or until he makes his getaway.

I certainly mean no disrespect to the innocent victims, nor do I intend any diminishment of empathy for them or their loved ones through my use of sarcasm – I feel deep and intense sympathy and pain for everyone who was harmed by this man’s horrific act. My sarcasm is intended only to point out and focus attention on the absurdity and disingenuousness of the easy dismissal of a silencer as only “making it more comfortable” for this mass murderer in snuffing out the lives of 12 innocent people. As if it’s even conceivable that this murderer really had the slightest thought about his own “comfort” when he most certainly entertained, if not fervently desired, his own ultimate demise at the hands of responding police officers. Whatever this murderer’s motivation for killing these innocent co-workers, he certainly did not intend on being captured, or getting away with his horrendous crime.

In one case of an attempted murder committed during a drug ripoff I handled, when I was a fairly new patrol deputy in West Hollywood, California, the Suspect used a pillow over the head of the drug dealer when he shot him. The bullet did not penetrate the victim’s skull, but travelled around his scalp, lodging below the skin, fortunately for him. The pillow was intended to muffle the report of the gun, not as any comfort to the Suspect, and certainly not the victim. It was an improvised silencer, which suppressed the noise so neighbors in adjoining apartments would not call the police.

The reasons any mass murderer, or murderer of a single person who uses a silencer is the important point here, and it’s absolutely NOT for the perpetrator’s comfort, or because he or she doesn’t like loud noises, or is concerned about protecting their hearing. But it does makes a “nice” story for the NRA to use as commercial propaganda, appealing to the consumer who wants to look macho, and like James Bond 007.