Hearing Protection vs. Auditory Exclusion

While in the shooting range, One should always wear ear protection. During a 'fight or flight' situation, Auditory Exclusion can protect your hearing.

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Lately I have been reading various discussions about the importance of donning electronic hearing protection earmuffs as you grab your home protection gun when you hear that "bump in the night" inside your home.

The reasons given for wearing hearing protection in a home search is that it will protect your hearing should you and or your opponent fire shots within the close confines of your home. If you understand a bit of human anatomy and physiology, you will realize that "auditory exclusion" already has your hearing protected in a life and death situation.

The "fight or flight" phenomena is what causes auditory exclusion to occur, and it is the most well understood reaction to threats to our lives and physical well-being.

Fight or flight occurs as an alarm reaction. When under a high level of perceived threat, the human brain triggers the release of adrenalin and endorphins into our bloodstream. Adrenalin provides a momentary boost in strength and endurance. It is why people are able to perform great feats of strength-who under normal circumstances would have no capability to do so-such as lifting an automobile off a loved one that it had just fallen on. Endorphins are naturally occurring pain relieving drugs stored in the human body that have an effect similar to morphine. This chemical release prepares us to fight back more effectively, or run away more quickly than we could under normal "stasis" conditions.

Auditory exclusion is part of fight or flight, and means that when you are under high stress the sounds of gunfire or other loud sounds that you should have easily heard are muffled or muted to the point that you don't realize that any excess noise was generated-until someone tells you about it in the aftermath. There is no ringing in the ears or apparent damage that occurs. This explains while soldiers in combat, firing multiple rounds of rifle ammo and being around even louder arms without hearing protection, can come back from war with their hearing intact. If it wasn't for auditory exclusion, we could easily tell who our combat veterans were-they would be the 20-something guys wearing hearing aids. It is also why you don't see SWAT teams wearing hearing protection outside of firearms training classes.

Let me relate three personal instances of auditory exclusion that illustrate the phenomena.

  1. I was on a SWAT callout to deal with a suspect who was placed under arrest for drug trafficking in his home. He had escaped the detective's custody and had armed himself with a 9mm handgun, holding himself hostage. Our team was stacked on the bi-level home stairway, which was enclosed by walls. We ended the standoff by firing a 12 gauge bean bag round in those tight confines. The six of us on the stairs only hear a muffled "pop" and secured the suspect. Officers holding the perimeter outside all clearly heard what they thought was a load of 12 gauge buckshot being fired. None of us experienced ringing ears.
  2. On another SWAT raid I was assigned to take down a dangerous suspect if needed with a Taser. I fired the Taser outside to take the suspect down and didn't hear the "pop" of it going off. I also didn't hear his wife screaming at the top of her lungs less than 20 feet away from me.
  3. On the way to work at the sheriff's office one morning during rush hour, I had to finish off a large buck who had been struck by a car and moving across two lanes of traffic. My duty pistol was a .357 Glock 31-a handgun whose report was much sharper than the 9mm or .40. I was amped up because I was trying not to get run over and finish the deer off without endangering other vehicles. I fired two shots and only hear a subdued pop. If I had fired two shots with the .357 while on our outdoor range without hearing protection my ears would have been ringing like crazy.

Auditory exclusion is quite real under fight or flight circumstances. Don't waste time trying to quickly don and activate hearing protection while you should be preparing to activate 911, your flashlight and firearm. Your body will take care of that for you.