What is the Difference Between a Silencer and a Suppressor 2: Understanding the Nuances

Have you ever watched a movie where the protagonist stealthily takes out a guard with a weapon attachment called a “silencer” or “suppressor”? If you’re a firearms enthusiast or simply curious about them, you might have wondered what the difference is between these two names. Contrary to popular belief, these two terms refer to the same device, but there are minor differences that set them apart. In this article, we’ll explore the history, legalities, and technicalities of silencers and suppressors.

The terms “silencer” and “suppressor” are often used interchangeably to describe a device attached to the muzzle of a firearm that reduces the noise level of a shot. However, silencers and suppressors refer to two different iterations of the same concept. Way back in 1902, Hiram Percy Maxim, an American inventor, created the first firearm silencer. He registered it under the name “Maxim Silencer” and obtained a patent for it. Later, in the 1960s, the U.S. military rebranded Maxim’s invention as “suppressor” to avoid creating unrealistic expectations surrounding the noise level reduction.

The difference between a silencer and a suppressor boils down to the level of noise reduction. Silencers primarily aim to mute or completely eliminate the sound of a gunshot, whereas suppressors look to decrease the noise level to a more manageable and safer level while still being audible. In essence, silencers reduce the sound of a firearm to a whisper, while suppressors leave a distinctive audible signature that can still alert others in the vicinity. With that said, it’s necessary to note that the terms “silencer” and “suppressor” are now used synonymously and are undergoing a bit of a linguistic makeover to become more accurate.

Firearms and Terminology

Understanding the terminology used in the firearms world can be a challenge, not to mention navigating the various laws and regulations surrounding firearms and their accessories. One common point of confusion is the difference between a silencer and a suppressor. While often used interchangeably, these two terms actually refer to slightly different products.

A silencer is a specialized device that attaches to the end of a firearm and reduces the sound of the shot. It was first invented in the early 20th century by Hiram Percy Maxim and was initially known as the Maxim Silencer. It is important to note, however, that the term “silencer” is something of a misnomer, as it does not completely silence the sound of the shot. Instead, it reduces the sound to a level that is less damaging to the shooter’s hearing and less likely to disturb nearby residents or wildlife.

  • A silencer typically reduces the sound of a gunshot by 20-35 decibels.
  • Silencers are legal to own and use in most states, provided you obtain the proper permits and follow all applicable laws.
  • Silencers are available in a wide range of sizes and designs, depending on the type of firearm and intended use.

A suppressor, on the other hand, is a broader term that can refer to any device that reduces the sound or flash of a firearm. This could include a silencer, but it could also include other types of devices, such as flash hiders or muzzle brakes. While a silencer is a specific type of suppressor, not all suppressors are silencers.

When shopping for a suppressor, it is important to check the laws in your state as they can vary significantly. In some states, suppressors are completely illegal, while others require an extensive background check and the payment of significant fees.

Overall, whether you are looking for a silencer or a suppressor, it is important to do your research, follow all applicable laws and regulations, and work with a reputable dealer who can help you select the right product for your needs.

Firearm Attachments

Firearm attachments come in many different forms, providing various benefits to the user. Silencers and suppressors are two popular attachments that many people may be confused about. Contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing. Although both serve to suppress the sound of a gun, they have different features and purposes. Here, we will be discussing the differences between a silencer and a suppressor.

  • Silencer – A silencer is a firearm accessory that reduces the amount of noise and recoil produced when a gun is fired. It is designed to reduce the report of the firearm, making it less audible to bystanders. The term “silencer” is actually a misnomer because it does not completely silence a gun. Rather, it reduces the noise to a much lower level that is less harmful to the ears of the user.
  • Suppressor – A suppressor works similarly to a silencer but is designed to achieve a different outcome. Suppressors reduce the amount of noise and recoil produced when a gun is fired, but their purpose is not to make the gun silent. Instead, the suppressor is designed to reduce noise to a safer level for the user, making it less likely that the user will suffer from hearing damage. The term “suppressor” is more appropriate because it suppresses the noise without completely silencing the gun.
  • Differences – The main difference between a silencer and a suppressor is their intended purpose. A silencer is designed to make the gun quieter, whereas a suppressor is designed to make the gun safer for the user to shoot. Additionally, suppressors usually have a larger volume, which makes them more effective at reducing noise levels. Silencers, on the other hand, are usually smaller and designed for tactical operations where a smaller size is an advantage.

It is important to note that silencers and suppressors are regulated by the government, and their purchase and use may be restricted in certain areas. It is important to research and comply with all local and federal laws before purchasing any firearm attachments.


In summary, while silencers and suppressors may seem interchangeable, they are designed for different purposes. A silencer is intended to decrease the sound of a firearm, while a suppressor is intended to make the gun safer for the shooter to use. Understanding the differences between these two accessories is crucial for anyone who wants to purchase and use them.

Feature Silencer Suppressor
Purpose To make the gun quieter To make the gun safer for the shooter
Size Usually smaller Usually larger
Effectiveness Less effective at reducing noise More effective at reducing noise

Understanding the differences between a silencer and a suppressor is crucial, as it can mean the difference between a necessary purchase and an unnecessary one. Knowing what you need and how each accessory functions is important when selecting firearm attachments, especially when it comes to something like a silencer or suppressor.

Understanding Sound

Before delving into the differences between a silencer and a suppressor, it is important to understand the basics of sound. Sound is simply vibrations in the air that our ears can detect. These vibrations create pressure waves, which are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibels, the louder the sound.

It’s important to note that not all sounds are created equal. A sound of 70 dB can be twice as loud as a sound of 60 dB. This is because decibels are measured logarithmically, not linearly. For instance, 90 dB is ten times louder than 80 dB. This is crucial to understand when discussing silencers and suppressors, as they can greatly reduce the sound of a firearm, but they cannot eliminate it completely.

The Difference Between a Silencer and a Suppressor

  • A silencer is a term commonly used to describe a device that reduces the sound of a firearm by reducing the sound of the explosion from the cartridge. It works by slowing down the release of gases and cooling them as they exit the muzzle of the gun. This reduction in the speed of gases, coupled with the cooling, greatly reduces the sound of the explosion. However, it’s important to note that a silencer does not completely silence a firearm. It can only reduce the sound to a safer, more comfortable level.
  • A suppressor, on the other hand, is a device that reduces the sound of a firearm by suppressing the sound of the bullet as it exits the muzzle. A suppressor works by trapping and cooling the gases as the bullet exits the muzzle. It does not work quite the same way as a silencer and may not reduce the sound of a firearm as much as a silencer would. However, a suppressor is still effective in reducing sound and can also reduce recoil and muzzle flash.

The Sound of Firearms with Silencers and Suppressors

When it comes to understanding the sound of firearms with silencers and suppressors, it’s important to understand that these devices do not completely eliminate sound. They only reduce it to a safer, more comfortable level. The sound of a firearm with a silencer or suppressor can be compared to the sound of a car door slamming or a jackhammer. While still loud, it is not as damaging as the sound of an unsuppressed firearm.

Firearm Sound (unsuppressed) Sound (suppressed)
9mm pistol 160 dB 130 dB
.223 rifle 165 dB 135 dB
.308 rifle 170 dB 140 dB

As shown in the table, suppressors and silencers can greatly reduce the sound of a firearm. However, it’s important to note that there is still a significant amount of sound generated. It is still highly recommended to use hearing protection when shooting a firearm with a silencer or suppressor.

History of Silencers

In 1902, Hiram Percy Maxim, the son of the famous inventor Hiram Stevens Maxim, patented the first firearm suppressor. However, he called the device a “silencer”. One of the reasons behind his invention was his desire to reduce noise pollution in hunting areas. Maxim’s patent was bought by the Maxim Silent Firearms Company, which eventually became the Maxim Silencer Company of America.

During World War I, several European countries used suppressors on their firearms to help the soldiers communicate more effectively. The suppressor also helped reduce the sound of the gunshots, which was particularly beneficial for long-range snipers. The American military also began using suppressors during the war.

However, the popularity of silencers among criminals during the Prohibition era in the United States led the government to pass the National Firearms Act of 1934, which required individuals to pay a tax and register their ownership of suppressors, short-barreled rifles, and other firearms. This resulted in a significant decrease in the number of silencers available for civilian use.

After World War II, the demand for suppressors increased again, particularly among hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and law enforcement officers. Today, there are numerous companies that manufacture suppressors, and they are legal to own in most states, with the proper permits and registrations.

Regulation and Legality

The use of suppressors or silencers is heavily regulated by federal law in the United States, and their legality varies by state.

  • The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 requires individuals to register silencers and pay a $200 tax stamp for each one they own. In contrast, suppressors are considered firearm accessories and can be purchased over-the-counter with proper documentation, including passing a federal background check.
  • In certain states such as California, New York, and Illinois, the use of silencers is prohibited entirely, while other states such as Texas and North Carolina allow their use for hunting and shooting activities with proper registration and permits.
  • It’s important for gun owners to research their state’s individual laws and regulations regarding suppressors and silencers before purchasing or using one.

In addition to state regulations, the use of suppressors and silencers may also conflict with local city ordinances or noise ordinances. Some municipalities may have specific restrictions on their use, such as prohibiting discharging a firearm within city limits or limiting usage to designated shooting ranges.

It is essential for gun owners to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws regarding suppressors and silencers to avoid legal consequences.

State Silencer Legal? Suppressor Legal?
Alabama Yes Yes
Alaska Yes Yes
Arizona Yes Yes
Arkansas Yes Yes
California No Yes
Colorado Yes Yes
Connecticut No Yes
Delaware No Yes
Florida Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Yes
Hawaii No No
Idaho Yes Yes
Illinois No Yes
Indiana Yes Yes
Iowa Yes Yes
Kansas Yes Yes
Kentucky Yes Yes
Louisiana Yes Yes
Maine Yes Yes
Maryland No Yes
Massachusetts No Yes
Michigan Yes Yes
Minnesota Yes Yes
Mississippi Yes Yes
Missouri Yes Yes
Montana Yes Yes
Nebraska Yes Yes
Nevada Yes Yes
New Hampshire Yes Yes
New Jersey No Yes
New Mexico Yes Yes
New York No Yes
North Carolina Yes Yes
North Dakota Yes Yes
Ohio Yes Yes
Oklahoma Yes Yes
Oregon Yes Yes
Pennsylvania Yes Yes
Rhode Island No Yes
South Carolina Yes Yes
South Dakota Yes Yes
Tennessee Yes Yes
Texas Yes Yes
Utah Yes Yes
Vermont Yes Yes
Virginia Yes Yes
Washington Yes Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes
Wisconsin Yes Yes
Wyoming Yes Yes

For example purposes only. Updated laws and regulations may not be reflected in this table.

How a Silencer/Suppressor Works

Understanding how a silencer or suppressor works requires a basic knowledge of firearm mechanics. A gun works by igniting a charge in a cartridge, causing the bullet to propel out of the barrel. Along with the bullet, propellant gases are also released, creating a loud noise. Here are the main components of a suppressor:

  • Outer Tube
  • Baffles
  • End Cap
  • Muzzle Attachment

The outer tube is essentially the suppressor’s shell, made of hard materials like stainless steel, aluminum, or titanium. Inside the tube, baffles are lined up. These are discs with holes drilled through the center, meant to slow down the gases when exiting the barrel. The end cap seals everything inside the suppressor.

A muzzle attachment is necessary to connect the suppressor to the gun, and it depends on the type of firearm being used. This can be a thread or quick-detach coupling. Once the suppressor is securely attached, it can alter the sound signature of the gunshot.

The way a suppressor works is by trapping the propellant gases inside the suppressor. The baffles inside the suppressor slow down the propellant gases, which reduces the sound of the gunshot. This works similar to a car muffler, where the exhaust gases are slowed down by passing through a series of chambers, reducing the noise levels of the car.

Firearm Type Decibel Reduction (db)
22 LR Rifle 40-55 db
9mm Pistol 28-34 db
308 WIN Rifle 20-30 db

Suppressors can reduce the noise of a gunshot by as much as 55 decibels, making it significantly easier on the ears and less alarming to those nearby. It is important to note that a suppressor will not completely silence a gunshot, as seen in Hollywood movies. The reduction in db is directly affected by the caliber of the gun, the type of ammunition being used, and the length of the suppressor.

Shooting with a Silencer/Suppressor

One of the primary reasons why people use silencers or suppressors is to reduce the noise produced by a gunshot. This can benefit hunters who want to avoid scaring away their prey and also protect the hearing of the shooter and people around them. However, there are some important things to consider when shooting with a silencer or suppressor, such as:

  • The impact on accuracy: Adding a silencer or suppressor to your firearm can change the way it handles, which may affect your accuracy. It is important to practice shooting with the device attached to ensure you are still able to hit your target effectively.
  • The type of ammunition used: Some types of ammunition are better suited for use with a silencer or suppressor than others. Subsonic ammunition, which travels at a lower velocity and produces less noise, is typically recommended.
  • The maintenance required: Silencers and suppressors can accumulate residue and build-up, which can affect their performance over time. It is important to clean and maintain your device regularly to ensure it continues to function properly.

In addition to these considerations, it is important to note that shooting with a silencer or suppressor may not be legal in all areas. It is important to research and comply with local laws and regulations regarding their use.

Silencer Suppressor
Historically used to reduce the noise of firearms but is now more commonly used as a marketing term. Designed specifically to reduce the noise of firearms by suppressing the sound of the explosion.
May not completely eliminate the sound of a gunshot but can significantly reduce it. Can bring the sound of a gunshot down to a much quieter level, often to the point that it is barely audible.
Typically larger and heavier than suppressors due to their design. Generally lighter and smaller than silencers.

In summary, shooting with a silencer or suppressor can provide several benefits, including reduced noise and hearing protection. However, it is important to consider the impact on accuracy, the type of ammunition used, and the maintenance required. It is also important to comply with local laws and regulations regarding their use.

What is the difference between a silencer and a suppressor 2?

Q: Is there actually a difference between a silencer and a suppressor?
A: Yes, there is a difference between a silencer and a suppressor. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, a suppressor is a more accurate term because it only reduces the sound of a gunshot, not eliminates it completely.

Q: Why would someone want to use a suppressor?
A: The use of a suppressor can provide many benefits, such as reducing the noise of a gunshot to protect the shooter’s hearing, decreasing the amount of noise pollution, and making it easier to communicate with others while shooting.

Q: Are silencers and suppressors legal to own?
A: The legality of owning silencers and suppressors varies by country and state. In the United States, for example, suppressors are legal to own in most states with the proper paperwork and permits.

Q: What is the process for obtaining a suppressor?
A: The process for obtaining a suppressor can vary depending on your location, but it typically involves filling out paperwork, undergoing a background check, paying a tax stamp fee, and waiting for approval.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about silencers and suppressors?
A: One common misconception is that silencers completely silence a gunshot, which is not true. Another misconception is that the use of a suppressor is limited to illegal activities, which is also not true. Suppressors can be a useful tool for responsible gun owners.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to learn about the difference between a silencer and a suppressor. We hope that this article has provided you with valuable information. Remember to always be responsible and safe when handling firearms. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us. Until next time, happy shooting!