As a U.S. Army pilot for 20 years, I was told repeatedly that I should always wear hearing protection when in or around the aircraft. In fact, I should double up and wear not only my helmet, but earplugs as well. And it was emphasized that the Army would not pay a disability claim for hearing loss because we were told how to protect our hearing and provided the means to do so.
As a firearms instructor, I have studied the physiological and psychological effects that occur during and after a defensive shooting situation. One of the fascinating phenomena that occurs is auditory exclusion.
This occurs when the body starts to shut down various senses that it deems unimportant at that particular time in that defensive scenario (e.g., peripheral vision, certain memory functions and, of course, hearing).
However, can we rely on this to occur during all defensive shooting scenarios? I teach my students that during some defensive shooting scenarios, your hearing may actually become more sensitive and, while you may survive the encounter, you may end up with irreversible hearing loss.
Bump in the Night
Imagine you’re at home asleep and are awakened by a bump in the night. You grab your trusty handgun that you keep secured in the quick-opening gunsafe next to your bed and silently walk to the bedroom door. No one is expected to be coming home that late at night, and the other family members are all out of town for an extended period of time. Therefore, safe in that knowledge, you know that absolutely no one should be in your home.
You move to the bedroom door, take a quick peek down the hall and see two men dressed in black clothes and with ski masks over their faces. One is holding what appears to be a long gun.
You quickly close and lock the bedroom door and wake your wife. “Get into the bathroom!” you whisper. The urgency in your voice conveys the danger you’re both in. She quickly grabs her cell phone and moves into the bathroom, your predetermined “safe area,” as you slide a chair in front of the bedroom door and manipulate the keypad to open your large gunsafe and withdraw the AR-15 you keep there in case you ever have to fend off multiple intruders.
As you wait quietly, concealed in the bedroom, your wife calls 911 and gets the police on their way. The dispatcher informs her that it will take some time because there are only a few deputies on shift that night. You now know that it’s you, and only you, who can fend off these men, if it becomes necessary.
Your breathing deepens. Your palms are sweating. Where are the sirens? Where are the police? You can’t believe this is happening! Should you yell out, “The police are on their way”? A yell now would give you away, and what if they just start shooting through the door or the walls? Will the walls stop a shotgun at this range? What if they have slugs in the shotgun? These thoughts run through your mind in a flash.
You steel yourself as you strain to hear the men who are outside your door. The doorknob turns slowly. You click the safety from “Safe” to “Fire” and hope they’ll go away, hope the sirens will come wailing down the street. But they don’t! The door begins to move, the men begin to kick, and then kick harder. You raise your rifle and fire! The man returns your “announcement” and the shotgun blasts through the door, so you fire again, and again, and one more time. You hear the hallway table crash as someone stumbles down the hall toward the front door. Now you hear the sirens. You go to your wife and both wait for the cavalry.
I say all that to say this: Do you think auditory exclusion occurred during the above scenario? The victim in the room went through the original “fight or flight” physiological reaction minutes before the actual shooting. The victim’s senses were increasingly heightened during the burglary and he focused intently on trying to hear where the bad guys were in his home.
What about the victim’s wife? Did auditory exclusion work for her? She probably didn’t know when her husband was going to fire his rifle. Both the victim and his wife experienced 150-160 decibels, several times above the threshold for normal hearing and well into the threshold where hearing damage can occur. Plus they experienced this inside an enclosed room! While lucky to be alive, they may very well experience some long-term hearing loss.
Preventing Hearing Loss
Is this a preventable tragedy? Could Mr. & Mrs. Victim’s potential hearing loss have been avoided? Yes. With proper planning, a defensive shooting scenario where auditory exclusion may not occur can be made safer for the victims.
I believe in simplicity! I teach my students to keep a set of $50 electronic hearing protectors next to their beds. I mentioned this to a friend the other day and she laughed and said, “So, I’m supposed to tell the bad guys to wait until I put my ear-pro on?” Absolutely not! If the bad guy is suddenly right there, this article is moot. If you’re in a sudden defensive shooting, auditory exclusion will more than likely take effect. But I asked her, “Are you going to ask the bad guy to wait while you get your phone, handgun and long gun?” No! You’ll have those in pre-prepared locations, with a thought-out plan that you will put into place if you have the time to do so. Ear-pro is, or should be, a part of that plan.
What benefits do you get from adding a set of electronic ear muffs to your “Bad Guy Is in My House” plan? First and foremost, you will protect your hearing! Something that you can’t get back once it’s lost! Secondly, you get bionic hearing. You can now hear better than normal because your hearing is electronically enhanced. Lastly, you can communicate with another person with simple whispers because he or she has bionic hearing also.
Do these benefits outweigh the cost? Well, I ask again: How important is your hearing?