Home > Uncategorized > Can you hear George Zimmeman ‘cock’ his gun during his police call? And so what, anyway?

Can you hear George Zimmeman ‘cock’ his gun during his police call? And so what, anyway?

A number of web commenters have asserted that a clicking sound audible at 7:12:16 in his police call is the sound of him ‘cocking’ his gun, chambering a round, loading the gun, whatever one does with a Kel-Tec K9 to make it ready for action.

Some folks have also claimed they can hear Zimmerman mutter something about his gun behind the operator asking “What’s the phone number you’re calling from?”

Regardless of what that noise is, this is another non-issue. By the laws of the State of Florida, however unwise they may be, George Zimmerman had the legal right to walk around his neighborhood carrying a gun. Nothing in the law says he can’t have a bullet chambered or his gun ready to fire. The sound in question occurs at a time when George Zimmerman almost certainly did not have Trayvon Martin in sight. So even if that sound was made by a gun, there is no evidence that Zimmerman was threatening Trayon Martin with the weapon. If Zimmerman took his pistol out of it’s holster to do something with it, there’s no evidence I know of, that he kept it out of the holster and in his hand, no evidence he didn’t put it back in it’s holster. (And it seems highly unlikely the confrontation would have occurred under any scenario that fits the rest of the physical evidence had Zimmerman had his weapon drawn at the beginning of the encounter.)

But more to the central focus of this blog. I have significant doubts that this noise was made by a gun. I have no idea what kind of sounds a Kel-Tec K9 makes, nor have I seen any online postings where someone has actually recorded the sound of a Kel-Tec K9 and compared it with the sounds from the 911 call. (If you know of any such comparison) let me know. Here are things I do know:

1. Real life objects rarely sound the way you’d expect them to sound. When you watch a Hollywood film, and you hear an object make a noise, you can pretty much guarantee that the sound you hear was NOT made by that object. The reason is that the real thing almost never sounds ‘right.’ So when you hear something like a gun being cocked or a round chambered on screen, you’re most likely hearing one of two things:
a: A carefully selected clip from a sound effect library, in which each sound is recorded with close micing under ideal conditions.
b: A sound created by a “Foley Artist” who is a master of a large collection of objects known to sound “right” when recorded. For example, a Foley artist knows that a sound of an actual human being getting punched in the face doesn’t make much noise at all, but a realistic ‘thud’ csn be obtained by whacking certain fruits or vegtable with certain objects. Guns falling to the ground don’t actually sound like guns falling to the ground, so Foley artists have a variety of heavy metal objects (e.g. really big padlocks) to make gun-drop sounds. By the same token. a common bathroom door sliding barrel bolt lock might sound more like a bullet being chambered than the real thing.
So if you hear something that sounds the way you THINK object X sounds, and you’ve gained that knowledge at all via mass media, you may well be comparing your unknown sound to a clever substitute, rather than the real thing.

2.  Microphones do not ‘hear’ the way your ears do. Or rather, your brain processes sound that occurs IRL differently than it processes sound collected by a microphone and reproduced. Paradoxically, perhaps, you hear the reproduced sound more as it actually is, while you process real, live sound in  variety of ways that let you concentrate on the important parts and reject (literally not hear) a lot of stuff that gets in the way. For example, in real life, you can adjust better to ignoring differences in the tonal balance and/or frequency response of speech and just take in the words. Also, as long as you can recognize them, you may not notice the difference between sounds of distinctly different levels. Anyway, here are some basic principles of sound physics:
a. In an open space, sound disperses via what’s called “the inverse square law”, which means that as you move away from the sound source its loudness decreases rapidly, exponentially, not arithmatically.
b. Any sound is made up of a combination of air vibrations at different frequencies which have mathematical relationships to one another. The basic frequency is called the ‘fundmanetal’ and the higher frequencies are called ‘harmonics’ or ‘overtones.’ The fundamental is where most of the oomph of any sound occurs, but it’s up in the harmonics where you get the little details that make speech intelligible, or provide detail and character. Lower frequencies and higher frequencies behave differently. Lows easily go through things or around things, while those overtones travel in straight lines and are very easily blocked. You’ve heard this if you’ve ever been next door to someone playing a stereo too loud. The boom boom thump of the bass is very loud, you can hear the other instruments and vocals, kind of, but they’re terribly muffled and you can’t make them out. That’s because the lows are going through the wall, but the wall is stopping all the overtones dead. The more the overtones are muted the more dull the sound becomes. Microphones exacerbate the problem, because they are less capable than your ears of picking up high frequencies coming from different directions. You’ve noticed this is you’ve ever been on the phone with someone whose mouth slips away from the mic. They’re vice doesn’t so much get softer, as get muffled to the point where therie words become hard to understand. Same issue: loss of harmonics.
c. Sound is caused by the vibration of physical objects which send compression waves out through the air. Which means that sound pick-up devices (like microphones) are subject to making sounds from direct physical vibrations that toy wouldn’t hear in real life, at least not very loudly. If you’re having a phone conversation with someone whose phone is rubbing against a nylon jacket, they’re not aware of it at all, but it’s extremely loud and annoying on your end.
SO: We can notice that the clicking sound at 7:12;16 is both quite loud, and quite clear and sharp. This suggests one of three things:
i. That it was made by an object quite close to the microphone, since the sound didn’t disperse much and must have had a clear patch for the harmonics to reach the mic. Compare the clicks to the sounds of Zimmerman leaving his vehicle from 7:11:43 – 7:11;48. They’re neither quite as loud or as crisp on the recording as the clicks are, but certainly they were louder IRL, so if the clicks were made by eternal object it likely was closer to the mic. If they were made by Zimmerman’s gun, he would probably have to have been holding it pretty much right in front of his face. Possible perhaps, but it seems unlikely to me.
ii. The clicks aren’t made by any external object, but some sort of contact noise against Zimmerman’s mic. While the clicks at 7:12;16 are the loudest and clearest, there are a number of similar sounding clicks mixed in with the voices, occuring irregularly for the next 30 seconds or so.
iii. The clicks didn’t from Zimmerman’s end of the conversation at all, but from the operator’s end. He may have readjusted his headset while holding some object in his hand, causing the two to click together, or there may be some piece object at his station that makes a clicking noise…

So:
In Summary: The clicks at 7:12;16 were probably NOT made by Zimmerman’s pistol, and even if they were, short of evidence that he actually pointed it at Trayvon Martin prior to “being in fear for his life” whatever he did with his gun at 7:12:16 has no relevance to an incident that began several minutes later, since for all we know he may unloaded and reloaded it several times during the intervening moments.

Key Principle: What you think you hear in a sound recording could quite likely be something else, and knowledge of context is generally necessary to interpret sounds accurately. For example, the sounds of Zimmerman opening and shutting the car door at 7;13:43 are unmistakeable because they are a SERIES of recognizable sounds occuring in a specific sequence, each part of which helps to identify the other.

Narrative/Psychological Analysis: I would guess people have focused on the 7:12:16 clicks because they are so loud and clear. They SEEM dramatic and meaningful, because of the way they happen to have been recorded. Again, we are used to hearing recorded sound as part of film and television narrative, where almost NO sound are recorded live, but rather edited in and mixed in post-production exactly to communicate this point or that by virtue of their tonal character and loudness. We read the real world in part by employing the storytelling conventions, the vocabulary of meaningful inferences, we have learned from the simulated worlds of mass media. A certain rate of error naturally follows.

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