Previous Post
Next Post


A favorite topic among YouTube trolls and pedants everywhere is whether that can on the end of one’s barrel — you know, the one that quiets the report of the gunshot — is called a “silencer” or a “suppressor.” Usually this is in the form of folks “correcting” anyone who says “silencer.” Well, I’m here to tell you that they’re both completely correct. As is “firearm muffler.” And this is why. . .

Hiram Percy Maxim, son of the inventor of the Maxim machine gun, designed these devices while inventing similar mufflers for automobiles, and he called both the gun ones and vehicle ones “silencers.” He started the Maxim Silent Firearms Company to sell his silencers.


To the inventor goes the naming rights. Seems fair.

Then, the 1934 National Firearms Act, which is still unfortunately law of the land, regulated the possession of various sorts of firearms. In order to regulate it, the law must first define it:

The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.

“Suppressor” became common parlance at some point afterwards. When? I have no idea. It is the term used most frequently by those “in the know” — meaning folks familiar with firearms, industry types, TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia, etc. — in particular when speaking to those not “in the know.” It’s industry jargon — it’s a slang term, really — because it’s more accurate than “silencer,” since silencers don’t actually make gunshots silent, and it’s not as dorky as “firearm muffler.”


At any rate, since the Federal Government says they are “silencers” and anybody who pays their $200 tax to get one or to make one is signing forms saying “silencer” all over but “suppressor” nowhere, and every law and legal definition every place in the nation refers solely to “silencer,” “silencer” is a perfectly acceptable and correct term for these things.

Just ask SilencerCo, likely the largest manufacturer of suppressors, or Silencer Shop, the largest distributor of suppressors. Err, silencers.

Of course, the Federal Government also defines firearm silencers as “firearms” themselves…

(3) The term “firearm” means

(C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer…

…which is absurd. But still, it’s the law. It is the official, legal, recognized definition and parlance. You’ll find there’s literally no way to register or pay tax on a “suppressor.”

We say “suppressor” with those not “in the know” because it’s more descriptive and less scary. Internally, though, we know “silencer” is correct and we use it at least as often as “suppressor.”

Liberty Mystic X

Bottom line: “silencer,” “suppressor,” “firearm muffler,” and “firearm silencer” are all perfectly correct. Colloquially, “can” is fine as well. Heck, just visit to find the company called Liberty Suppressors, and note that viewing its products requires visiting the “Silencers” tab. No mufflers, though…

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. After I hung a can off my EDC gat, I had problems with my IWB rig.

    How could a beginner possibly get confused by that!?


    • The premise of the article is silly. The Feds are not the arbiters of our language. This is America, after all, where we have never had an official language. The government’s definition of a term means something in the law, but that’s the extent of it. It doesn’t mean that using incorrect terminology in our everyday conversation is now correct.

      A suppressor is not a silencer, just because government says so.

      Just like a semi-auto AR is not an assault weapon, even if the government says so.

      Just like a full-auto AR is not a machine gun, even if our laws term them so.

      Just like magazines aren’t clips, and so on and so forth.

      “Of course, the Federal Government also defines firearm silencers as “firearms” themselves…” – Exactly.

        • Like I said, legal definitions mean something within the realm of law. So I don’t intend to argue the definition of silencer/muffler/suppressor with Uncle Sam. But as I also said, the government is not always right. See “high-capacity magazine,” or “assault weapon.” The government can define how words are used within the law, but that doesn’t make it a good definition.

  2. All that, but not a single mention of the fact that the man who invented the things in the first place, Hiram P. Maxim, called them “silencers?” I’d think that would be worth mentioning in the whole “silencer” vs “suppressor” debate.

    • Good point. Definite oversight. His original patent and most others (which almost all refer to his from 1908 or 1909) call them firearm silencers. Of course, the marketing-like language in it makes it sound like he truly expected complete silence 😉

      • The inventor, patents, and relevant legislation to regulate them all call them “silencers”. But hey, you wanna be a douchecanoe hipster and call them “suppressors”, knock yourself out neckbeard.

    • Maxim wanted to sell his invention to the military , and silence was the selling point . Anti-gunners use silencer also , and they want to sell their ” invention ” to a gullible public as the evil offspring of criminals . The truth is that they suppress sound . Given a choice , I always go with the truth .

  3. So “portable”…does that mean if I build a piece of stationary artillery, I can put a silencer on it without an NFA stamp? Because it’s sure as hell not going anywhere..

  4. I use the terms ‘can’ or ‘suppressor’; ‘silencer’ seems a little too hollywood; hardly anything is hollywood quiet.

    • In Hollywood almost every gun is as quiet as a real gun is with a silencer/suppressor and a gun with a silencer cannot be heard at all even from a few feet away.

  5. It’s a perspective thing: silencer makes the gun go thwap with no report at all (a.k.a hollywood style)
    suppressor just slightly lowers the sound so it is still a “gunshot”… if we ever want to get them off the NFA we need to change people’s perspective.

    • Exactly. The more we refer to them as suppressors, the more others will refer to them as suppressors, which will make it easier for the public to support changing the laws to make them as “easy” to purchase as guns are (e.g., no NFA stamp required).

      Suppressor is like the opposite of the term “assault weapon”, which of course was made up to make banning certain weapons easier.

    • Yes, hushpuppy was what the special forces called a silencer in Vietnam, because they used them to kill the VC guard dogs so they would quit barking when they wanted to sneak in.

  6. I always thought that : (not to be overly pedantic)
    Silencer- reduces the projectile to subsonic speeds and suppresses the sound at the muzzle of the weapon.
    Suppressor- suppresses the sound at the muzzle of the weapon. It does not affect the speed of the projectile.
    I would appreciate further illumination on the topic ( well, maybe I’m a little pedantic)

    • There aren’t, to my knowledge, any cans out there that can slow a bullet down to subsonic. If anything, they slightly increase velocity due to extended time with pressure behind the bullet.

      Unless there’s some magnificent one with special electromagnetic braking capability (that’d be pretty awesome) I don’t see any coming to market either.

      That said, an eddy current breaking system built into the can could slow it down a little, but would require a solid copper bullet, and steel cores would definitely be out of the question (unless you want the magnet to pull the speeding bullet through the side of the can). Wouldn’t work on high velocity, but the ones right on the edge should be able to be slowed enough to reach trans-sonic at least.

      • Yeah, that’s not a real thing. It’s commonly thought that firearm mufflers slow the projectile down (due to references in tv and movies and novels, usually about being able to tell from ballistics that a suppressed firearm was used), but it’s not the case. They typically add velocity, as mentioned above.

        However, there are firearms made to bleed off extra gas and pressure to slow ammo down and keep it subsonic. I think the MP5sd has that functionality, but many others do too. From the video, it looks like POF’s forthcoming 9mm carbine does this.

        • Ported barrels on integrally suppressed weapons do that. The MP5SD has a bunch of ports drilled into the barrel just past the chamber, and the 10/22 integral I had was ported as well.

  7. I thought a muffler was a long, woolen scarf worn by metrosexuals as an accompaniment to skinny jeans.

    Hey, when Vito Corleone wrapped a towel around his Webley Mark VI to shoot Don Fanucci, did that turn the towel into a firearms muffler? ‘Cause if it did, I have a linen closet full of mufflers and I didn’t pay the $200 tax on any of them.

  8. For the record, there’s no proof that the EPA wants to put catalytic converters on gun mufflers to decrease lead pollution.

    • Shh! Don’t let them hear you say that! Next they’ll be whining about lead particle emissions instead of just solid lead contamination of the range. They’ll want to implement that crazy idea. “…and it came from a gun nut, so it had to be a good idea…”

  9. Ironically, the only people who make a fuss about the wordsmithing are generally those that DO NOT own any silencers/suppressors/mufflers/cans. Users on forums like don’t care about the wording one bit.

    • Exactly. I use the terms interchangeably. I just get annoyed when I refer to one of my silencers as a silencer and get “corrected” by some pompous ass.

  10. People have used the adjective “pretty” to describe Chelsea Clinton; this doesn’t make it correct. We all know that this isn’t the case and same can be said for silencer. Lots of things are misnomers.

    Suppressor is the correct action it does. Muffler is a secondary and correct term. Orwell is always right (see: “Politics and the English Language”).

  11. You say TomAtoe, I say TomAHtoe… It’s always a little funny to me when people get too serious about it

  12. For what it’s worth… I have a silencer on my 2 stroke dirt bike and a muffler on my 4 stroke street bike. Neither of which I would say are pleasingly quiet.

  13. Being pedantic aside, I prefer the term “suppressor” because it hasn’t been put into common usage by antis or by video games. Differentiating oneself from the immature COD players that like to act like POTG is a good idea in the battle of winning hearts and minds. Also, since suppression more accurately describes what a can does, it makes it more scientific and less scary to those on the fence. That’s also a good jump off point to inform people of how gunshots don’t just disappear into a little puff of air like they do in games or movies.

  14. I’m 100% on silencer. Not so much because that’s what it does, but more as what I wish it would do.

    Same reason I still call the guys that vote at the capital “representatives”…

  15. Who cares. Everyone knows what you mean.

    This whole argument is lame. Like when a drill sergent says, “that’s not a gun, that’s your weapon (or rifle).” Or when some general decides that “UAV” must be changed to “UAS”. As if everyone was confused before the drill segeant or general enlightened everyone with their meaningless distinctions without a difference.

    Complete and utter sophistry. That also goes for douchebags who obsess over “silencer” vs “supressor”, and even “clip” vs “magazine”.

  16. Most of us knew this. It’s not like the magazine vs. clip thing. It’s funny but a major gun seller on Auction Arms always says “clip” in his pistol description. Maybe he’s too lazy to type magazine…

  17. I do it this way.

    When discussing functional aspects, I use the term silencer and suppressor interchangeably. Actually I usually use the term “can” simply because its much shorter to type. In this kind of use, nobody should care much what term is used.

    When discussing LEGAL issue, there is ONLY ONE correct term and it is SILENCER. The laws use the “silencer”. So we need to also use the word “silencer”, to remove any ambiguity. Its very simple.

    “Silencers are legal in many states” is factually correct.
    “Suppressors are legal in many states” may or not be correct depending on how you define suppressor.


  18. I want several of them.

    2 problems:
    2-need to find someone who will take the barrels off some of my rifles and cut threads on the end-with a lathe.

    It’s so obviously the right term.
    I’ve never understood why two sides argue over the other two. They’re both bad terms and they both irritate people.
    “Silencer” was just a dishonest marketing term that was wrong a century ago.
    As for calling them suppressors, let’s face it: that term has always been an attempt to use a similar-sounding word to confuse people who want gun mufflers the things banned.
    So let’s call them Gun Mufflers. It’s the 100% correct term, and everybody knows what they do, and how completely they do it as soon as they hear the term.

  20. I want a glass pack muffler, I mean a silencer, , I mean a can for my pistol. LOL

    Right now I’m running open headers and drag pipes.

  21. Don’t much care what ya call them, the term silencer was just marketing crap and the best of them can only shave enough off the sound signature to make a full power rifle barely hearing safe, and even then not good enough to protect your hearing if you are going to go through a few thirty round mags. The government is too incompetent to even figure out what part of the gun to put the damn serial number on, so they are pretty useless. Call it what you like, but it is stupid to have to pay a tax to own one.

  22. Wass’a “pedant”?!?

    To the best of my knowledge, “General Electric” does not sell ‘lectricity.

  23. Suppressor is also the more accurate name though. Silent, the root word of Silencer, is the absence of sound or noise. Silencers do not completely muffle sound. They reduce, muffle or suppress sound.
    I point that out because using the term Silencer has helped the create the Lie that these devices are more deadly because no one can hear them being used.

  24. Years ago, while working in London, England at Stone and Webster, a well known engineering company, much to my surprise, it turned out that there were several rifle shooters among the office staff. One day, the subject of “silencers” came up in conversation, the Britishers expressing great surprise at the difficulties encountered by American shooters in obtaining and using “silencers” on their firearms in the U.S. After all, “you yanks have mufflers on your cars”, they offered. To say the very least, they thought U.S. law more than just passing strange. I did then, and still do on that score.

  25. to add my completely uncalled for two cents to the confusion –
    it says there in laymans terms that in 1902 the silencer was introduced by hiram percy maxim as a device to, well, silence a gunshot (apparently order to not disturb pedestrians while shooting). perhaps they should allow those at least in chicago…
    said hiram percy maxim, son of gun inventor hiram stevens maxim, later developed a refined silencer that he called supressor. (in 1909) in addition to silencing the gunshot this device was also able to erm, suppress the muzzle. so, there you have it.. it’s two very similar things with the refined one having an additional feat and a different name – mainly for marketing reasons. muffler sounds coolest anyway – that is in my humble (german) opinion.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here