The short, TLDR answer is, silencer and suppressor mean the same thing… technically. Even though these terms can be used interchangeably, we hear a lot of folks insisting on the use of one term over the other, hence the debate on silencer vs suppressor. In this blog, we’ll be talking about the history of silencers, why some people prefer calling them suppressors, and whether one term over the other really matters. Let’s get started!
A Brief History on Silencers
In 1902, Hiram Percy Maxim invented the suppressor for commercial use. It wasn’t only his invention that captivated people, but also his ability to market what he coined as the Maxim Silencer. Maxim went on to patent the Maxim Silencer in 1909, and heavily marketed to the outdoor sportsman looking to enhance their shooting experience and noise reduction.
As a result of Maxim’s patent and marketing materials, the word silencer caught on quickly and remained a steadfast term throughout the years. Nowadays, silencer is used more so as the legal definition in both state and federal regulations, as well as on all ATF Forms because of Maxim's original labeling. Which begs the question..
Where does the term Suppressor come from?
If you’ve shot a silencer or you’ve watched a video of someone shooting a silencer, you probably know that they don’t actually silence a firearm. In reality, no silencer is truly silent. While Maxim’s silencer patent and marketing campaign earned him notoriety, many firearm enthusiasts became aware of the fact that silencers don’t actually silence firearms; they suppress.
As such, many purists prefer to use the word suppressor. Technically, suppressor is a more accurate term since these devices are capable of reducing / suppressing the sound made from a firearm shooting a round. But, we still need to pay our respects to the man who started this category of the firearm industry.
Does Silencer vs Suppressor really matter?
Depending on who you ask, it might really matter. We’ve seen heated debates on which is the more correct term. But we’ve chosen to set up camp in both territories because at the end of the day, all that matters is that people know that it’s legal to own a silencer (or a suppressor).
Suppressor Requirements: Another cause for debate
Contrary to popular belief, some customers have different needs for their suppressors besides suppressing sound. Where civilians tend to look at sound suppression, versatility, and accuracy first, military tends to focus requirements on reduced blowback, long term reliability, and in some cases, reduced flash. This has arguably led to more confusion because of different suppressor goals. Do you want a silencer solely focused on making the firearm as quiet as possible? Or are you looking for more of a suppressor that is constructed to have more features?
Unfortunately, although both terms can be used interchangeably, many people still insist that only one or the other is correct. It can be a source of contention similar to the never-ending 9mm vs .45 argument.
There have also been rumors for ages about the government de-regulating silencers if everybody would just start calling them suppressors. Unfortunately, changing what you call them probably isn’t going to cause any changes in the government. This is primarily because lawmakers use the legal definition silencer regardless of what the industry is saying. It’s also partially because the government isn't known for removing regulations (which is just one reason why supporting groups like the American Suppressor Association is so important, especially in this political environment).
Silencer vs Suppressor Conclusion
If you’re looking for a clear cut difference between the terms, think of it like this:
Silencer - The legal definition for a firearm suppression device
Suppressor - The technical definition for a firearm suppression device
At Silencer Shop, we use both terms interchangeably - and you can trust that we won't try to correct you when you call or email us. We’re just excited to be able to talk silencer / suppressor shop with you!