Huh? I Didn’t Hear That
At the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Pittsburgh, a great many members stopped me to say hello and chat for a few minutes. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Conversations of this sort are fun, develop new gun information and provide a lot of data on what shooters might really want to read about. But I fear that some of those who approached me may have come away with a wrong idea about my responses to their questions that was not a reflection of any kind of bad attitude on my part. The truth is I have a pretty severe hearing loss and I may have not understood correctly, if I heard at all. It is also an entry to one of my pet rants—the need for effective hearing protection for anyone involved in the shooting sports.
I have been on a military firing line with fifty BARs steadily blazing away and the noise is incredible. I once lived next to a full battery of 155 mm self-propelled howitzers and that was worse. The human ear was never intended to accept that kind of abuse, but can recover if the sound is not protracted over a long period of time. If it is, the inevitable result is hearing loss. Unless, that is, you protect your ears with some form of hearing protection. In the 50s and 60s, the military did not emphasize this, a situation that I'm told is no longer true. In civilian shooting, the onus is on the shooter.
Effective hearing protection is available in the form of plugs and muffs. Both types muffle the sharp crack before it can over-stress the delicate mechanism of the inner ear. I have plugs that are custom-made for my ear canals and they do a pretty good job. I also use sturdy muffs that actually amplify the sounds of normal conversation, but instantly shut off the high-pitched bark of a firearm. Other muffs are less expensive with no electronics involved, just lots of sound-deadening foam rubber. Whatever you can manage will do a far better job than no protection at all. Loss of hearing is a subtle disability that gradually isolates you in crowded world. When the background noise is enough that a partially deaf person cannot hold a normal conversation, he or she subconsciously avoids any possibility of having to converse.
If your hearing is gone, it's gone. But that doesn't mean that you can't do everything possible to protect younger shooters in your circle of shooting friends.