Silencer vs. Suppressor: What’s in a Name?

Silencer vs. Suppressor: What’s in a Name?

Kat Ainsworth Stevens

Kat Ainsworth Stevens

Between daily life and the movies, you’ve likely heard the terms suppressor and silencer used to reference what appears to be the same barrel-mounted device. Is there really an difference between the two terms? Does it matter if you call these devices silencers or suppressors? We’re here to answer your questions on the subject, and it all starts in 1902 with Hiram Maxim.

Hiram Maxim silencer in vintage ad from early 1900s
Hiram Percy Maxim created his famous silencer in 1902 and had it officially patented in 1909. (Photo credit: SilencerCo)

The Birth of the Silencer

It was 1902 when Hiram Maxim created what would become the Maxim Silencer; in 1909, the device was officially patented. The tubular, barrel-mounted device was made to reduce the decibels produced by live fire, and it was the first of its kind produced on the commercial market. 

Maxim Gun Silencer vintage advertisement
An original for Maxim Silencers. (Photo credit: SilencerCo)

The term “silencer” is literally in its name. This is not because the original designs quieted shots even more than today’s models but simply because it was the term Maxim chose to use. Marketing to the extreme was the style of the era, so it’s possible Maxim slightly overstated the effectiveness of his silencer. It’s also worth noting the anti-gun movement hadn’t truly come to fruition, meaning there wasn’t as much concern over the possible implications of specific terminology.

Collage of Maxim gun silencer marketing materials
The Maxim Silencer was the first of its kind, a commercially available, functional device made to reduce the decibel level of gunshots. Marketing was sometimes dramatic at the time. (Photo credit: SilencerCo)

What it comes down to is this: The original terminology used more than a century ago was “silencer.” However, that doesn’t make the use of the term “suppressor” incorrect.

What is a suppressor?

There’s no difference between a suppressor and a silencer, they’re simply two words for the same object. The term “suppressor” came about due to a variety of factors in the gun industry. As time went by from the invention of that first successful silencer, the political climate changed, as did the verbiage used for various items. “Silencer” was and is seen by many as a less-favorable term due in large part to the fact that the devices don’t silence anything, they just quiet them down a bit. Thus the term “suppressor” began to be used, and it didn’t take long for it to become widely accepted.

A suppressor is the same thing as a silencer.

Is my silencer a suppressor?

Yes, your silencer is a suppressor and vice versa. There’s no difference in the device itself, only in the name. “Silencer” is simply the original term while “suppressor” is the one that evolved over time to more accurately describe the action of the device in question.

Is every muzzle device a suppressor or silencer?

The fact that silencer and suppressor are two words for the same thing sometimes leads to confusion. After all, there are a lot of muzzle devices on the market, and they’re not all the same.

First, let’s consider how a silencer works. Suppressors, or silencers, are made to significantly reduce the decibels produced during live fire. It is typically a tubular device containing baffles designed to redirect the gases and heat of shooting in such a way that the decibel level is lowered. These reductions in noise aren’t drastic and do not actually silence anything, despite what the movies indicate. What they do is drop the decibels to a more hearing-friendly level. The exact amount of reduction depends on the specific silencer, model of gun, and caliber.

SilencerCo Osprey 2.0 parts
The SilencerCo Osprey 2.0 is shown here with its baffles removed and visible. (Photo credit: SilencerCo)

Second, there is another category of muzzle devices that are not made to reduce decibel levels. This includes muzzle brakes, flash hiders—also sometimes called flash suppressors—and compensators. It could be stretched a bit further to include thread protectors, too, although a thread protector is a screw-on device that’s really a cap made to protect the threaded end of your barrel from damage.

It’s important not to confuse these devices with silencers, because they’re not remotely the same thing. Of course, that doesn’t entirely protect some of them from being restricted in certain areas.

Flash hiders, which are also labeled as flash suppressors in some instances, are restricted in some places. These devices are made to redirect the gases produced by live fire in a way that reduces the visible flash from the muzzle of the gun. This is a means of protecting your vision and reducing your visible footprint in an area, which can be a huge help to fellow shooters, especially when you’re running certain guns. It doesn’t render the gun invisible or take away all evidence of a gun being fired. Not even kind of.

Despite the fact that a flash hider/flash suppressor doesn’t quiet down or somehow hide firearms, they’re heavily restricted in specific places. This is one reason it’s vitally important to be familiar with the laws in your area. Just because something is perfectly legal in one location doesn’t mean it will remain legal when you cross a city, county, or state line.

Flash hiders are not even remotely the same thing as suppressors or silencers. Neither are muzzle brakes, compensators, nor other muzzle devices that are not created to specifically and significantly reduce the decibels produced during live fire. A silencer is its own specific device and should not be confused with other types of accessories simply because they all mount to the muzzle end of the barrel. Understanding the parts and aftermarket accessories available for firearms is a must for responsible firearm ownership.

SilencerCo Hybrid 46M in short and long configurations
The SilencerCo Hybrid 46M is an example of a silencer that’s designed so it can be reconfigured to a shorter, or longer, length. (Photo credit: SilencerCo)

Does it matter what I call my silencer?

As long as you’re referring to your silencer as a silencer or suppressor, you are correct. What needs to be avoided is referring to other muzzle devices incorrectly. Acquaint yourself with the different terms to ensure accuracy. Some of the most common devices are:

  • Silencer: A device, usually of tubular shape, that typically contains baffles or wipes for the purpose of specifically and significantly reducing the decibel level a gun produces during live fire.
  • Suppressor: See “silencer.”
  • Muzzle Brake: A device that mounts to the muzzle end of a barrel for the purpose of redirecting gases in a way that slightly mitigates felt recoil and, in turn, muzzle rise. The specific shape and design of the muzzle brake has an impact on its effectiveness. Some of them are tunable so they can work at an optimal level with specific guns and loads.
  • Flash Hider/Suppressor: A device that mounts to the muzzle end of a barrel for the purpose of redirecting or dispersing gases in a way that slightly reduces the brightness of a live-fire flash.
  • Compensator: A device that mounts to the muzzle end of a barrel for the purpose of redirecting gases to significantly reduce muzzle rise with the goal of improving accuracy and speeding up target acquisition.

Not all devices are the same, and even the devices within a category have sub-categories to consider. For example, there are numerous types of muzzle brakes, all which perform to varying degrees. There are also myriad silencers on the market, some made in a fixed, one-piece system and others created so the length can be varied as needed (which also affects its decibel-reducing levels).

Whether you call it a silencer or a suppressor, it’s an excellent device to acquire to protect your hearing, reduce your sound imprint on an area, and create a more pleasant shooting experience overall.

The post Silencer vs. Suppressor: What’s in a Name? appeared first on SilencerCo.


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