Apart from all the more obvious problems with firearms, one that you might not have thought about is how long-term use of a gun for sport or hunting hurts your hearing. If you shoot for competition, sport or other reason, then you might find that you're suffering some hearing loss already.
Of course, ear defenders are very good, and will stop the sound of gunfire from doing any damage, but such things cut you off from the world, and mean you can't hear people coming, warnings being shouted or other guns firing. But a new app from a group of British developers makes shooting with ear protection just like not wearing any protection, but without risking your hearing.
GunSonics, the app we've tested, is clever for a number of reasons. But, at its core it allows you to hear everything going on around you while you wear ear protection. It uses the microphone on your iPhone headphones to amplify sounds around you, like the instructor giving you shooting tips, or warnings, and means that you'll be a lot more safe than you would otherwise be while shooting.
While that may sound counter-intuitive, the software does some clever stuff to restrict the amount of sound that comes from the gunshot, while allowing birdsong, someone's footsteps or a warning yelp come through crystal clear.
Interestingly, while the GunSonics team was researching this app, they discovered that electronic ear defenders that are sold to protect your hearing while shooting might actually be doing the opposite. In the manual, in small print, was the admission that with these electronic defenders can actually amplify loud noise. When you're talking about 170dB of sound, that could mean instant hearing loss. These are pieces of hardware that cost £200 or so too, so you can imagine that's incredibly annoying to discover.
In our test, we went to shoot, under instruction, on Holland & Holland's range a bit to the west of London. A beautiful country estate awaited us, with some incredibly powerful guns. As lily-livered liberals, we're not really keen on privately owned weapons, but shooting on a range, for sport is something we are quite happy about. Talking to our instructor too, gave us an overwhelming sense of just how professional these guys are. You'd expect that though, these guys have masses of experience, and basically invented the .375 round we were shooting with.
And what a difference from past shooting experiences. We've done this in Bratislava, Prague and Las Vegas with various guns, from revolvers through to machine guns, and there has always been one ongoing theme, which was not being able to hear anything the instructor was saying. Mind you, in Prague that wouldn't have been much of a problem as they didn't speak any English, and we spoke no Czech. But with GunSonics, we could hear every piece of instruction, which gave us the opportunity to hear, and ask for instruction. In short, it changes the experience from one of isolation, to one where you can communicate and learn at the same time.
The app costs £6.99 on iTunes in the UK, and $9.99 on the US app store. We have a feeling that it will be more useful to our American friends, but we're proud it's a British app, and if you get the chance to shoot in the UK, you'll find using it to be an utterly fantastic experience.