What's Happening

This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

Though I've only used a rifle a few times in my life, I would say this page has it backwards: the main difference I noticed between TV guns and the real thing is that the real thing is louder—presumably because TV producers don't want to come anywhere close to damaging the hearing of their customers. Was I just not paying enough attention to the finer points of the sound? Was this article meant to apply mainly to automatic weapons?

  • I'd have to agree. I actually laughed out loud when I read one of the examples claiming that the slide is noisier than the round itself on a .45ACP (no mention of a suppressor). There's no way this is possible, period. I personally have a noticeable level of firearms-induced hearing loss, some of which is due to more than one firearm chambered in .45ACP. This is taking into account that 95% or more of my shooting is done with hearing protection, sometimes going so far as to use ear plugs and ear muffs at the same time. Guns are goddamn LOUD. Some moreso than others, but I've yet to find a "quiet" caliber other than .22lr.

A "realistic" gun shot would involve the protagonist firing off a single round, and then spending the next fifteen minutes of the movie shouting at everyone because he can't hear over the ringing in his ears.

Sci Vo: I understood it as talking about gunfire in the middle distance, like a block or two away. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if they got it wrong in both directions, having distant gunfire be too loud while the up close and personal kind is too soft.

Looney Toons: It is indeed about more distant observers than right up close. But more generally it is also about gunfire sounding wrong overall. I think we can cover all the bases with a little expansion.

Gattsuru: It's not just at distance, though. In real life, the sound of a gun is pretty unique, and variable. Rimfire pistols, for example, sound like a steel hammer against an iron nail, followed by the echo of whatever was hit, possibly with the minor sonic boom crack added. Good subsonic ammunition in a long rifle sounds like a popped balloon followed the echo from whatever you hit, bad subsonic sounds like the same steel hammer. Most centerfire rounds sound like a thunder. If (and only if) you're being shot at, you may hear a 'zip' sound as supersonic lead goes near you.

In nearly all movies, whether it be Final Fantasy Advent Children or Die Hard, it's fairly similar. Semiautomatic guns always makes the same sound : a BANG followed by a zip, even if the viewpoint and main characters are nowhere near where they'd need to be to hear that 'zip'. Automatic fire is a "rat-a-tat-a-tat" with loudly audible clinks, even in fairly quiet-ish mechanical designs.

There are other, often more minor, issues. M1 Garands in war movies, for example, always give off a distinctive metallic clink after every round in movies, while in real life that was only an issue at the end of each en-bloc clip. Road to Perdition features a character carrying a 1911-style pistol, the sound of the slide being cycled, and the hammer doesn't move. Silencers are able to completely shut down noise from guns, even if the ammunition itself didn't appear to be subsonic. A 'ricochet' (and all shots ricochet in the movie world) sounds the same on brick, metal, or sand. Every gun movement makes a 'clink' sound (the Matrix Lobby scene would be the worst offender here, where simply pulling a pair of handguns guns out of holsters makes Neo clink more than a over-pierced goth).

Arc Mage: My personal experience suggests that there's some half-rightness here. Even 'just' a 9x19 pistol, if fired in a small room by persons not wearing hearing protection, is going to leave you stone deaf for tens of minutes, and with a ringing in your ears that may last a week. A rifle or shotgun could well lead to permanent hearing damage.

From, say, the far side of a wall, though, there's not a lot to distinguish a firearm's report from any other small explosion, and outdoors, a quarter mile off and it may as well not have happened.

  • I think the main issue here is not particularly the volume of the report. Rather, gunfire tends to be simply too low-pitched in movie sound effects. For an idea of what we're getting at here, this clip from Miami Vice is a shining example of the trope in action. Listen for the sound the Bren Ten makes at 2:27! What a whopper! Now, compare it with the sound of a Smith & Wesson Model 1066. Both weapons fire the same caliber of ammunition, so the report should sound similar. However, Sonny Crockett's firearm ended up sounding more like a field howitzer of some sort.

    • For another example, compare the utterly ludicrous sound of Neo's Beretta 92s to the sound of a Daewoo DP-51 being fired. Both weapons fire the ubiquitous 9mm Parabellum. Even when you account for the slight variation between the two, they should still sound pretty close. One notable aversion of this trope is the movie Heat, where the guns actually sound exactly like the real thing. Note that there's technically a reason why the movie sound effects are so fakey-sounding. The sound of actual gunfire is notoriously difficult to record without distortion and crackle; even high-end professional-grade microphones have difficulty picking it up properly at close range, often rendering a VERY LOUD *crack* sound into a hollow, tinny *pff*. Youtube videos that prominently feature the sound of actual real-life gunfire often have highly deficient audio thanks to all the cheap, low-end camcorders these people use. Another thing to keep in mind is that the sound produced by gunfire depends greatly on the environment in which the weapon is fired. Whether you're firing a gun in a forest clearing, or near a wooden enclosure, or in a terrain depression, or in a building, you should expect to hear radically different echo and attenuation effects in play between each locale. For one example of a practical solution to this problem in video games, Rainbow Six Vegas and its sequel get around this by having different "echo" effects for gunfire depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors.

Ellen Hayes: Three reasons for television to be quieter than Real Life: most televisions have very poor speakers, with comparatively small range between (softest sound) and (loudest sound). People hate changing the volume every few seconds, like between the shooting and the characters talking. And, you don't really need the neighbors calling the cops complaining "They're SHOOTING at each other in there!"

Johnny E: Removed the following from the second para, since it messes up the flow of the explanation - the volume is covered in the next paragraph.
  • If you think this means they're quiet, you haven't tried setting a firecracker off six inches from your own ear.

  • Ah, I put that there because there were a lot of people reading that and seemingly instantly assuming all real gunshots are actually quiet, which isn't true either.