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Old August 5, 2009, 12:58 PM   #1
thawntex
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Would you instantly recognize the sound of gunshots?

Sometimes people present at shootings confuse the sound of gunfire with other sounds.

Examples:
a. A man interviewed from the site of a recent health club shooting initially thought he was hearing racquetballs.

b. Someone at the Holocaust Museum shooting thought he was hearing a rack of books falling over.

c. Some at a recent church shooting thought the gunshots were sound effects for a skit.

Questions:
1. What causes people to confuse the sound of gunfire with other sounds?
2. Could this confusion cause people to lose valuable reaction time, putting them at greater risk?
3. Would you, the reader, instantly recognize the sound of gunshots?

Thanks,
T
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:02 PM   #2
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The primary cause of people confusing gunfire with other sounds is that they are not sufficiently familiar with the sounds of gunfire from different types of guns. I wouldn't mistake anything for a higher-caliber revolver, most pistols 9 mm or over, or a shotgun for anything else any more, but two years ago? I don't know. And I can still mistake .22 fire for something else.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:06 PM   #3
Brian Pfleuger
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I wonder about this same phenomenon.

One of my neighbors told me a few weeks ago that there were "suspicious kids" hanging around and after they walked down the street the neighbors "thought we heard gun shots".

I can't understand that. 12am in a quiet town and you "thought" you heard gun shots? Do people not understand how loud a gun really is?


As to your questions:

1) Unfamiliarity and rarity. In most places that these shootings occur, most of the people in the area may have NEVER heard a real gunshot in person and certainly aren't thinking that loud noises are likely to be caused by firearms.

2) Yes

3) Under most circumstances, yes, absolutely.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:08 PM   #4
ezenbrowntown
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I could see how people might struggle around the 4th of July, especially if they weren't familiar with guns. The only sound I can think of that sounds like any kind of gunfire is that of a backfiring vehicle in comparison to a shotgun.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:10 PM   #5
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So far the answer for me personally is "maybe".
I have heard sounds (backfires, firecrackers, a snapping power line) that I was sure were shots fired. I have also heard shots fired and thought they were any of the above things.

On the other hand I have also heard shots fired and been -certain- that I knew what they were like a murder-suicide that happened a couple of months ago near my home.

Acoustics can really alter the sound of a gunshot making positive ID difficult. Combine that with the "condition white" attitude of most folks and it will often take them quite a while to react to gunfire.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
The only sound I can think of that sounds like any kind of gunfire is that of a backfiring vehicle in comparison to a shotgun.
Even then the "sound" may be comparable but the volume is no comparison at all. A shotgun can be heard from probably a couple thousand yards away. A backfire might be heard from 200 or 300 yards away, tops.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:11 PM   #7
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I recall hearing what I was sure was a pistol shot. It turned out to be a guy dropping a 4X8 sheet of 3/4" plywood on a wood floor.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:14 PM   #8
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True, peetzakilla, *but* in most cases people judge the distance a sound is coming from by identifying the sound and then gauging how far it would have to be to sound that loud. If you aren't sure whether you're hearing a car backfire or a shotgun in the first place, knowing that a shotgun is louder only tells you that IF it is a shotgun, it probably came from 1/4 of a mile away, while a car backfire means no more than a couple of blocks.

That's useful information; if it's a shotgun it isn't all that close to you. But it isn't necessarily helpful if you need to determine what the sound was.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:41 PM   #9
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The only gunfire people usually hear is from movies.
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Old August 5, 2009, 01:44 PM   #10
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Most people's first reaction to a sound is going to depend in large part upon the context.

The health club shots sounded like racquetballs because they were at a healthclub, and a racquetball sound makes sense in that context...The museum gunshots sounded like a falling bookcase because of the context.

Despite the chest thumping above, it would be virtually impossible to hear an unexpected gunshot and have the first thought through your head be anything other than a rational contextual association. People familiar with guns might quickly re-focus and properly identify, but that first fleeting thought would likely not be (unless it was expected or you were in a firearms context).

As a side experiment, try staring at a roaring fireplace and then have someone touch the back of your next with an ice cube...You will swear up and down that they just burned you. Context.
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Old August 5, 2009, 02:14 PM   #11
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bababooey is definitely on the right track there.

I do beleive it is easier to mistake something else as a gunshot, than to mistake a gunshot for something else. And I mean that when applied to people who routinely hear gunshots, but that's my personal experiences talking.
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Old August 5, 2009, 02:19 PM   #12
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Many of us wear hearing protection while shooting, which makes the "crack" of a 9mm or .45acp sound like a "boom". Even hearing shots with unprotected ears at the range is much different then what they sound like in any given city setting.

I was in line at Walmart in the garden building when a shot went off, inside of the building. I *knew* that it was a shot. My situational awareness was up before the shot popped, none of the 15-20 people in line or several others still shopping were doing anything other then just standing around. Right after the shot, nobody moved, everyone just stood staring off into space. I moved slowly and deliberately, closer to very near cover and not grabbing for my gun so as to not draw any attention. I figgered that someone CCW'ing had had a negligent discharge, but it still left the possibility of blood pumping somewhere nearby that needed to be stopped. As I made my way around the cover that was blocking my view of about 1/3 of the large room, another shot rang out. It was *very* loud, and *very* close. At that time, I aquired a firing grip on my weapon, took one more step and came face to face with a guy reloading a stud gun, he was installing shelf units to the concrete wall. He couldn't see my gun, but he knew that I was ready to draw on him. I politely informed him that what he was doing was *way* too loud with customers as close as they were. He agreed and quickly left.
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Old August 5, 2009, 02:37 PM   #13
Brian Pfleuger
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Quote:
Despite the chest thumping above,
How did that term come to be the default description of anyone with whom a poster disagrees?

I'm beginning to think that the use of the term "chest thumping" is itself chest thumping.

Claiming to be able to recognize the sound of gunfire is "chest thumping"? Please.



Part of being able to recognize a sound is familiarity with that sound. I can distinguish the sound of my fathers shotgun from that of other similar guns from a couple of hundred yards away in the woods.

People who are familiar with gunshots are going to be quicker to recognize them for what they are, context or not.

Anyone who hunts can tell you how many times they heard a noise that they "thought" was a deer coming toward them that turned out not to be but when they heard a sound that WAS a deer it wasn't a "thought", it was KNOWN to be a deer. It happens all the time.

Gunshots are the same. You might think you hear something that may or may not be a gun shot but more often than not when you do hear a gunshot you will not have any doubt. (For those that are familiar with the sound)
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Old August 5, 2009, 02:37 PM   #14
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I was about 10 yards away from a shooting indoors in a gym. The shots took place in a stairwell and sounded like a boom of a soft drink machine being turned over!
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Old August 5, 2009, 03:19 PM   #15
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Gunshots? Most of the time, but I notice that since my right ear suffered the sound of a shotgun blast from about 18" (no problem identifying that one! ), I now have trouble identifying and locating the source of many sounds. Something I used to be pretty good at. Scary and embarrassing when I think I hear an intruder, only to have Mrs. Grymster tell me to "PUT THE GUN DOWN!.... PUT IT DOWN NOW! CLIMB OUT FROM UNDER THE SOFA and RELAX, it's just the cat rattling her water bowl around.... here take these pills!"
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Old August 5, 2009, 03:45 PM   #16
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No, I have been fooled more than once in my life.
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Old August 5, 2009, 03:52 PM   #17
Terry A
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Quote:
Today 03:37 PM
Tennessee Gentleman I was about 10 yards away from a shooting indoors in a gym. The shots took place in a stairwell and sounded like a boom of a soft drink machine being turned over!
I agree TG. Shots inside have that loud percusion sound that you can almost feel. We've shot (with permission) pistol & rifle rounds inside old vacated buildings set for demolition and I mean to tell you, I can't imagine what it would feel like or sound like being in front of the barrel of any gun. The 7.62 fired inside is especially awe inspiring.
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Old August 5, 2009, 03:57 PM   #18
bababooey32
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Pizza:
Quote:
How did that term come to be the default description of anyone with whom a poster disagrees?
It doesn't....It applies to those that are so sure of their abilities that they feel the need to brag about how they would NEVER be fooled by another sound, or they would INSTANTLY recognize a gunshot while at a restaurant.

I don't necessarily disagree with them, as there is no way for me to refute their claim. It is, however, still "chest thumping" in my view.

Quote:
I can distinguish the sound of my fathers shotgun from that of other similar guns from a couple of hundred yards away in the woods.
I'm sure you can. Could you recognize it in a large department stoire while shopping with your family though? My point is that in a different context, even a familiar sound still may not immediately register. After a second or two, you may realize what it is, but I am submitting that the first thought through your head would not be "gunshot" in an unexpecting environment.
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Old August 5, 2009, 04:21 PM   #19
Brian Pfleuger
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Quote:
I'm sure you can. Could you recognize it in a large department stoire while shopping with your family though? My point is that in a different context, even a familiar sound still may not immediately register. After a second or two, you may realize what it is, but I am submitting that the first thought through your head would not be "gunshot" in an unexpecting environment.
There is a world of difference between "instant" and "a second or two", not to mention how one might define "instant".

"Instant"- Would the absolute, very first actual neural impulses be processed and identified as "GUNSHOT!"? No, probably not, but that's not how I interpret the question.

When I say that I would "immediately" recognize a gunshot what I mean is that I would not be standing there after hearing it thinking "Hm, that must have been a bookshelf.... yes honey, those are nice curtains, we should buy them here...." and not identifying the sound until I hear people screaming. Might there be a moment or two while my brain processes the sound in context with the environment before realizing that it was much too loud to NOT be a gunshot? Yes, but only a moment or two. I consider that to be "immediate" if not "instant".

I've heard plenty of gunshots indoors and outdoors, with protection and without, in vehicles with the gun and outside of vehicles with the gun inside, in larger buildings and in sheds.

NOTHING sounds like a gunshot enough to be confused with a gunshot under typical circumstances.

You might hear something and say "That sounded like a gun...." but if it IS a gunshot then there will most often not be any question, assuming you know what a gun sounds like.
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Old August 5, 2009, 05:30 PM   #20
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Upon deciding to learn everything about guns as I possibly can, one of the first things I wanted to do was familiarize myself with the different sounds... one night I swear I heard a .40 being shot across town... turns out someone drew a weapon on a local LEO... he shot his glock in .40... on another night I heard what sounded like a .38... someone had their house broken into and fired... on another night it sounded like someone shot a shotgun... but it was a semi tire that blew out... I was in the house so I didnt hear anything but the boom... my friend was outside smoking and he could hear the "flapping" afterwards...
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Old August 5, 2009, 05:49 PM   #21
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on the 4th of July and new years I like to test myself by listining and seeing if I can tell the fire works from the gunshots, but thats outside, inside would be diffrent.


Quote:
Mrs. Curt.45 tell me to "PUT THE GUN DOWN!.... PUT IT DOWN NOW! CLIMB OUT FROM UNDER THE SOFA and RELAX, it's just the cat rattling her water bowl around.... here take these pills!"
man, I hated it when my Exwife used to say that to me.
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Old August 5, 2009, 06:57 PM   #22
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Would you instantly recognize the sound of gunshots?

I live in a very bad neighborhood, and since I became disabled and lost my Good Lady Wife I simply do not have the income to relocate. We have at least one Mexican gang, a black gang, two asian gangs, and one gangs that is made out of outcasts from the others. I hear gunshots at least every other night. I'm very good at picking gunshots out of normal background noise; especially when I hear 4 9mms followed by three shotgun booms, and a few more popgun rounds, then a squeal of tires. About a week ago I heard a car coming down my street making the following pattern; two 9mm shots, a sudden acceleration of the car then screech of brakes, then the pattern repeated. I turned off the lights, grabbed the phone and called 911, and got the Mini-30 out of the safe. When I told the 911 operator what I was hearing, she asked how I knew what I was hearing, I told her I was a Vietnam Combat Veteran, former cop, and a continuing shooter. She asked if I wanted to have a car stop by I said yes. The officers that came to the door told me that yes, I had made the right call; the BGs had shot into 5 houses, seemingly at random, but had gotten away clean. I don't know about others, but I can pick gunfire out quite easily. A side note. On Tet, July 4th, and New Years Eve I take my dog and a couple of guns and spend the night with some friends on a ranch outside of Clements. With my background, being awakened by gunfire in the dark really messes with my head.
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Old August 5, 2009, 07:32 PM   #23
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In my experience, how quickly you correctly identify a gunshot or similar noise for what it is is dependent on three factors:

1. Your experience with aforementioned noises.

2. How much you expect to hear them in that particular environment.

3. The proximity and succession of the noises

While at a firing range you expect to hear gunfire, and your ears are conditioned for it. You might even be able to determine what is being fired. Anywhere else, not only will the noise sound different because of distance or other obstacles between you and the gunshot, but it will also take longer for your brain to register what it really is.

I remember when on my first overseas deployment, the first time I heard incoming mortar fire, it took me a few seconds to figure out what it was. Not long after that it was very natural to quickly react to that same sound, and distinguish between the noises of rockets, mortars, and outgoing artillery. Upon returning home, I was still conditioned for those noises. For a couple weeks at least, even the sound of a slamming freezer lid (WHUMP!) would nearly make me hit the deck. If I were to hear the same noises today, I would definitely not recognize the sound nearly as quickly, because I am not expecting it. I realize comparing explosives to gunshots is apples and oranges (I doubt anyone is gonna snap and start lobbing mortars at the local wal-mart), but the same principle still applies.

Though I've fired and heard way too many gunshots to count (like everyone else here I'm sure), the realist in me seriously doubts my ability to quickly identify a gunshot for what it is in an environment that I am not expecting it. With that being said, some sounds can give away gunshots much more easily. A gun fired in rapid succession is much less mistakable than a single gunshot, and the shear volume of a gunshot in close proximity rules out just about any other possibility.

Spending time at the firing range may give you a little edge in identifying gunfire, but don't overestimate it.
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Old August 5, 2009, 08:07 PM   #24
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I was in the middle of a nightclub shooting and thought it was balloons popping.
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Old August 5, 2009, 08:12 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kayla
I was in the middle of a nightclub shooting and thought it was balloons popping.
LOL.
I know what a gunshot sounds like. I have heard them over the phone and its pretty distinct. A 22 snips, a 9mm cracks, a 40 pops and a 45 bangs. You can hear differences in each caliber shot. I am not saying I will know what caliber the gun is, what I am saying is at the range they have very different sounds and in the street a gun shot is a gun shot.
Maybe in a club I can see if but if I don't see balloons then idk *** is going on. Besides, clubs in GA don't let no one in with any guns or weapons.
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