Are Handguns Louder Than Rifles?

There are some essential differences between a handgun and a rifle, most notably physical appearance. Another differentiator is the level of sound they put off. So, with that in mind, which is louder? That is not necessarily a question that’s easy to answer, but we may be able to offer some clarity. Let’s dig into it.

Handguns can be louder than rifles because of the amount of energy and how it is released in relation to the shorter barrel. In rifles, most of the gun powder’s energy is depleted by the time the bullet reaches the muzzle (sometimes) making the report less intense compared to an identical round fired in a handgun.

There are many ways of explaining why handguns can be louder than rifles. The rest of the article will discuss the different noise levels, using silencers (suppressors), and how loud a gun can be in different settings.

Understanding the Difference in Noise Level

Some experts explain the difference in noise level between a handgun and a rifle using the concept of distance. This is measured between your ears and the muzzle. In this case, it is argued that the rifle’s muzzle is farther away from your ears compared to that of a handgun. When the guns are fired, the sound falls off rapidly with distance, making it easier to note the difference and effect. 

When a gun is fired, compare it to what happens when a balloon pops. High pressure is released into what was a normal atmosphere, causing explosive decompression. 

When gun powder is burned inside the chamber and the bullet is forced down the barrel, there are a few micro-seconds for pressure to build up. When the bullet goes through the barrel, there is a pressure difference inside and outside the barrel. The gun makes the “bang” sound as air with high pressure decompresses into the atmosphere, the same way a popping balloon would behave.

Modern-day firearms and air guns work on the same principle. High-pressure air is released behind the bullet (projectile), and the primary way the air can escape is through the barrel. So, next time you hear that “bang” from a gun, know it is not an explosion from the bullet, but relatively high-pressure air squeezing out of the muzzle behind the projectile, which in this case is a bullet. 

What can be considered a real explosive, in this case, is the primer of the cartridge. The tiny button at the back of the cartridge explodes when the gun’s firing pin strikes it. It is comparable to small caps kids add to their toy guns to get the “pop” sound when the hammer hits the cap. However, the primer is a bit smaller in a lot of cases. 

Now that you know what causes a gun to make “noise”, let’s discuss a few things you can do to suppress your firearm’s loud bang and how they work. This brings us to gun silencers or suppressors as some may say. The following section will explain how silencers work and answer some frequently asked questions about gun silencers.

Can I Use Silencers (Suppressors) to Make My Gun Silent?

It is essential to understand that silencers rarely make guns silent. Accordingly, most handgun and rifle bullets move at speed exceeding that of sound, creating a loud crack that breaks the sound barrier provided by the silencer. In most cases, the quietest guns have slower (sub-sonic) bullets used in short ranges.

How Loud Is a Gun?

Guns are inherently loud. For instance, a 22-caliber rifle with standard velocity ammo can be as loud as 140 decibels. This level of noise is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. A more-powerful gun is even more piercing.

All hearing protection suppresses sound to a varying extent. In most cases, they are designed to reduce the noise down to somewhere below 140 decibels, which is safe for your ears. 

Additionally, many other factors come into play when suppressing gunshots. For instance, the bullet’s powder charge, weight, and velocity determine how loud the gun will be. Faster shots have more power behind the ammo, typically making them noisier compared to slower bullets.

How Loud Is a Gunshot Behind Closed Doors?

There is no standard measure to determine how loud a gunshot is in a confined room on a broad scale. A gunshot in a concrete-walled house is louder than a gunshot within drywall construction because various materials absorb and reflect the sound differently.

However, the sound of a gunshot remains the same indoors or outdoors, but the sound can be concentrated to cause a more significant impact depending on where the gun is shot.

This explains why silencers are popular for home defense and law enforcement to protect their hearing in confined shooting situations.

How Loud Can a Gunshot Be Without Hearing Protection?

No gun is usually safe without hearing protection, except for some low-powered rimfire rifles. Almost all remaining guns make loud and damaging noise, leading to permanent hearing loss when shot at close range without hearing protection, especially over prolonged amounts of time.

In most cases, people who get exposed to frequent gunfire “get used” to the sound, not knowing they have actually lost their hearing ability to some degree. 

Why Use a Suppressor?

Suppressors are the only proven devices that you can use to reduce gunfire sound at the muzzle. All other hearing protection types are only designed to mask the sound or lower it down below 140 decibels and only helps the person wearing it. On the other hand, a gun silencer suppresses the sound all around the gun. This makes them invaluable for shooting in general.

Silencers can be compared to mufflers in cars, and they use the same technology. Using a silencer reduces the actual sound to a safe hearing level. No other device can be used for the same purpose because only silencers can effectively muffle the gas of firing at the muzzle, slowing it down to have a quieter shot.

The Benefits of Using Gun Silencers

Silencers are proven devices that can help you reduce a gunshot’s noise to a safe hearing level. Accordingly, they protect both the shooter and the people around them.

Since its invention in 1909, a gun silencer has always been used as a tool that facilitates this objective, regardless of how they are portrayed by Hollywood or the media.

In America, gun silencers are used for all types of shootings scenarios. Protection of you hearing in paramount and is not something to be taken for granted.

Bottom Line

Different guns have varying noise levels when shot, and this depends on many factors. When it comes to handguns and rifles, the noise difference is explained using the firearms’ internal aspects and structure as well as the composition of the round, etc.

When all external conditions are constant, it is clear that handguns can often be louder than rifles. This scenario is explained in this post based on two factors: the barrel’s length and distance between the muzzle and your ears (comparing the same round). 

Get out there, get to shooting, and make sure you protect your ears while doing it.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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