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What’s the Difference Between a Silencer and a Suppressor?

What’s the Difference Between a Silencer and a Suppressor?

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What’s the Difference Between a Silencer and a Suppressor?

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 First Silencer Ever

Hiram Maxim created the first silencer in 1902 called the Maxim Gun Silencer, and 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 came from Maxim himself,  not because the original designs quieted shots more than today’s models but because of marketing. Marketing to the extreme was the style of the era, so it’s possible Maxim slightly overstated the effectiveness of his silencers. It’s also worth noting the anti-gun movement hadn’t 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. So where did the term suppressor come from?

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. The term silencer is seen by many as a misnomer due to the fact that the devices suppress gunshots rather than eliminate them. The term suppressor quickly became widely accepted after its introduction.

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 function of the device in question.

Is every muzzle device a silencer?

No, not all muzzle devices are silencers. The fact that silencer and suppressor are 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 are made to significantly reduce the sound produced during live fire. Suppressors are 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. Silencers succeed in dropping 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. Thread protectors, while similar to other muzzle devices, serve to protect the threaded barrel on your gun from damage, but are not considered muzzle devices. 

It’s important not to confuse other muzzle devices with silencers, because they are not the same thing. 

Flash hiders, which are also called flash suppressors, 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. Flash hiders do not render the gun invisible or take away all evidence of a gun being fired. 

Despite the fact that a flash hider/flash suppressor doesn’t quiet down or hide firearms, they are 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 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 good practice 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?

Referring to your silencer as a silencer or as a suppressor is correct. However, not all muzzle devices are silencers, so it’s wise to educate yourself on different terms to ensure accuracy. Some of the most common muzzle devices are:

  • Silencer / Suppressor: 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.
  • 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/ Flash 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 silencers and others are modular silencers, engineered so that the length can be varied as needed (which also affects its decibel-reducing levels).

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

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