Silencer or suppressor
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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 here’s 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.

Silencer or suppressor maxim

To the inventor goes the naming rights. Seems fair.

Then, the 1934 National Firearms Act, which is still unfortunately the law of the land, regulated the possession of various sorts of firearms. In order to regulate something, 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 who aren’t “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 “gun muffler.”

Silencer or suppressor 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 that say “silencer” all over them, but “suppressor” nowhere, and every law and legal definition everyplace 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. Er, silencers.

Of course, the federal government also defines silencers as “firearms” so . . .

That’s absurd, but that’s the government. And 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.”

Silencer or 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 a company called Liberty Suppressors, and note that viewing its products requires visiting the “silencers” tab. No mufflers, though.

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  1. Damn your facts! Next you’ll be shilling for those frauds who invented “airplanes” that aren’t even made out of air.

      • What did you do with the stock cans off the Harley? Maybe I can modify them to fit a 60 mm cannon?

        The funny thing about Harley cans is, Harley owners don’t like them, but there is a market for them among import bike owners.

        • 3 inch pipes closer to 76mm, these things have welded baffles, too much grinding to open them up, replaced with a set that have removable baffles and options available to change sound. I’ll keep the stock stuff, and should I decide to sell/trade the bike I’ll take my custom stuff off (too much to list) and put the factory stuff back on.

  2. Maybe if we called them gun mufflers the uninformed would see that they’re harmless hearing protection devices? I know it’s not as sexy but it might move us forward on removing them from the NFA.

    • it is possible to completely “silence” a firearm…but it ain’t easy…usually involving something like a .22 rimfire…and a sub-sonic rd…I did it once with an AR-15 and a .22 conversion kit and a rather large “can”…[off an Ingram .45]…the only sound you heard was the “click”…sounding very much like a dry-fire…

  3. Hiram Maxim employed marketing genius in calling his invention a “silencer” since that would have more emotional sales appeal than a “suppressor”.

    People who advocate for our right to keep and bear arms are taking a page out of the Progressive playbook and relabeling such devices as “suppressors”. Why? Because Hollywood portrays assassins shooting virtually silent firearms with the infamous (and barely audible) “pffffft”. Uneducated viewers who fear firearms immediately decide that such “silent” firearms are real (they are not), are too dangerous, and will enable all manor of mayhem and destruction. Of course said uneducated people will advocate against our right to keep and bear arms.

    The reality is that a firearm shooting with a suppressor is still loud–painfully loud in most cases. A suppressor simply reduces the sound level from “likely to immediately cause permanent hearing loss” to “likely to cause long-term hearing loss with repeated exposure”.

    • Ack-shually a good silencer has about the same decibel rating as foam earplugs. That alone might not be enough for extended *rifle* sessions but there’s no need to minimize the hearing protection they provide.

      • Eric in Oregon,

        While suppressors reduce the sound level of gunfire significantly, the reduced sound levels are still very high in many/most configurations. And the resulting reduced sound level could easily cause permanent hearing loss–especially if shooting several rounds of ammunition or shooting indoors.

        Don’t get me wrong–I wish firearm suppressors were easily available to everyone who wants one and that everyone would use them religiously.

        Important clarification:
        Sound level reduction when using suppressors varies significantly depending on several factors. Some configurations are still very loud. Other configurations can be very quiet. My understanding is that shooting a bullet with a sub-sonic muzzle velocity out of a break-action or bolt-action rifle (meaning there is no noise from cycling the firearm’s action) can be VERY quiet. On the other end of the spectrum, shooting a serious rifle caliber out of a semi-automatic rifle can be quite loud–if anything due to the supersonic “crack” of the bullet.

    • another one that worked well was the MAC-11…[.380]…it sounded very much like a sewing machine…tic,tic,tic…not identifiable as a firearm….

  4. Here is one example of what a firearm suppressor does:

    9mm Luger
    115 grain bullets
    muzzle velocity around 1,200 feet-per-second
    barrel about 10 inches
    quality suppressor
    shooting outdoors
    observer (me) about 80 feet behind shooter
    observer (me) not wearing hearing protection

    The sound level of the gunfire was extremely loud–so loud/uncomfortable that I instinctively put my hands over my ears. (It was significantly louder than a very loud balloon popping two feet away from your head.) Remember that I was about 80 feet behind the shooter whose muzzle was pointing away from me. Now, a significant amount of the sound level was likely due to the supersonic “crack” of the bullets leaving the franken-pistol. Nevertheless, it was plenty loud. Claims that such a configuration would not alert surrounding people to the actions of a spree-killer are utterly and totally false.

    • 9mm sub-sonic works well…but may not cycle the action every time…a .45 report is about half what it would normally be…it’s best to use sub-sonic rds because even a .22 will produce a noticeable “crack”….

  5. “Suppressor” bugs me because it is too vague. Muzzle brakes suppress recoil and M-60’s suppress grunt rushes, but both are loud. Silencer/Muffler makes things silent(er)/muffled.

    Do Magazines next!

  6. “Sounded like a nail gun”

    No, it didn’t. I remember the VA shooter that went to his old place of employment and used a 5.56 with a can and that’s what they said. Like, were you wearing noise canceling headphones at the time?

    Anyways, I call them suppressors and cans. Silencers does sound a little liberal and Hollywood so I am not going to cater to them.

    • Montana Actual,

      Sounded like a nail gun.

      That is actually a pretty good description of the sound level that many suppressed firearm configurations would generate. Pneumatic framing nail guns shooting 16d nails are a good comparison. When I operated my pneumatic framing nail gun indoors, I used hearing protection because it was LOUD and slightly painful. I would do the same with a suppressed firearm.

      • Witnesses being in another room would also contribute to the distortion. I used to live in dormitory that had a shooting range in the basement and renovation down the hall. You could tell the noise apart if you heard both the same day, but they were not terribly different. But your point stands, nail-GUN can be damn loud!

      • Never said either were quiet, but the DB level of a heavy duty nail gun is nowhere close to a suppressed 5.56 using normal ammo that will cycle.

        I actually had to look it up again though. If you recall the news at the time was so focused on the suppressor they made up a bunch of shit about it being a rifle (that’s what I recalled and the last thing I cared to look into about this incident) when in fact he used a suppressed .45

        So yea, I can see that. Those noise levels are somewhat similar although the .45 would echo quite a bit more and tons of variable come into play like ammo type, can type, barrel length etc etc. So I apologize for mixing up the facts about the shooting – but still, a nail gun is much quieter than a suppressed 5.56. Maybe if you are using subs but then you are going to need some serious gas to cycle and that is also going to be a noise of it’s own. Suppressed .45 is around 125-135db and suppressed 5.56 is around 130-150. A heavy duty nail gun is around 95db. Fired “indiscriminately” – you are going to know somethings up right away (or at least, we would).

        The last thing that would come to my mind would be “sounds like a nail gun” and then back to work or just wandering around.

        • You make a great point, what “we” might notice, and what some cubicle-living bean counter (which I also am by the way) would notice could be vastly different. The small office building I worked in once shook noticeably with a loud boom. Coworker shrugged his shoulders and put his head back down. By the time I got to the ground floor and outside other people had helped the confused old woman out of her totaled SUV.

    • That kinda depends on the make, model, and age of your nail guns. Back in the early days of nail guns, some of them were as loud as smaller caliber pistols. Today, nail guns have been tamed a lot. Of course, a modern nail gun used heavily, and wearing out, is still going to get loud.

      I’ve worked with and worked on a lot of pneumatic presses, and if the mufflers/silencers/suppressors aren’t installed, or installed incorrectly, those can sound like gunshots as well. The difference is, you’ll hear the “BANG” and then a “pffft”.

    • barrel length is important on a 5.56…the shorter it gets the louder it gets….standard length 20 in can be suppressed to the sound of a .22 rimfire…

  7. SBRs, SBSs, and FA firearms are stupidly controlled by the NFA of ’34 but, the dumbest thing that horrid piece of legislative overreach does is regulate silencers/suppressors/mufflers/notsoloudasitwouldbeotherwisers. Where, in all the span of the universe, does that make sense? “We are gonna outlaw a thing that makes a really loud noise less loud, because, reasons.”

    Imagine all of the opportunities for integrally suppressed arms that would have a marketplace were this ridiculous bit of fictionally inspired fear porn not law. Not to mention that the cost of such objects, given modern design and manufacturing technology could/would be a fraction of what it is now. Firearms have undergone 88 years of development vis-a-vis design and production in a market with steadily growing demand while silencers (yeah, yeah, whatever name you prefer) and their marketing options over the same period have been hampered by their limited consumer pool. It annoys the hell outta me.

    • In England, New Zealand, and other countries, it may be difficult to obtain a firearm, but easy to obtain a silencer. I don’t like the tax stamp (and think it’s unconstitutional), however, for the additional hearing protection afforded me, my children, and those around me, it just makes sense.

    • Not ALL SBRs and Silencers/Suppressors/Mufflers/Cans are registered with ATF, I’m pretty sure there are at least thousands of homemade devices out in the world that somehow were never brought to the attention of ATF built by a bunch of non-compliant, unpatriotic, unamerican individuals. Not that I am actually aware of any such guns/devices, but odds are, just sayin’.

        • 15 minutes in lowes, Ace Hardware or Home Depot plumbing department and you can get all the adapters you need for 2 liter bottles, oil filters or to build a complete do-it-yourself suppressor. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

        • Maxx
          You better suppress that kinda talk before the wrong ears hear it and silence you.

        • before the wrong ears hear it and silence you.

          They can bring it whenever they decide that suicide by me is the best way out, I don’t silence that fukkin easy.

  8. if a suppressor extends the barrel of my pistol beyond 16” is it still considered to be an SBR if it has a stock?

    • That’s complicated, it only “extends the barrel” if it is permanently attached. If you start with a pistol then turn it into a rifle that’s one thing. If it was ever a SBR I think will always be one. If you start with a regular length rifle be very careful about the build process, you probably want to avoid making an SBR even temporarily.

      See the Thompson/Center line of modular pistol/rifle firearms.

      • “That’s complicated, it only “extends the barrel” if it is permanently attached.”

        As I understand it, legally ‘permanently attached’ doesn’t mean welded to the barrel (although you can if you prefer).

        Pinned and welded works as well, meaning, a roll pin drifted in to secure it, then the ends of the 2 holes spot-welded. Then, if you want to remove it, grind out the spot welds, and drift out the pin securing the can to its host.

        (If this is in error, someone please clarify it for me)…

      • If it was ever a SBR I think will always be one. – Myth

        A SBR is only a SBR when configured as such. As an example an AR lower that originated as a pistol can go from pistol to rifle to SBR and back in any order.

  9. I don’t care what people call them. I have 5 of them and every Form-4 says ‘silencer’.

    The .22s (Sparrow and Spectre) are super quiet. They are much quieter with subs even though shorter barrels make most .22 subsonic. Rounds loaded to propel a bullet at 1600 fps are louder than those loaded to propel the same bullet at 1000 fps.

    My AR in 300 BLK is very quiet, no hearing protection needed (AAC 762-SDN-6). I load my own ammo using the minimum powder load to operate the action (depending on bullet availability and what’s on sale). Less powder, less boomage.

    I load my .45 and 9mm the same way (AAC Tirant 45). Loading for my HK MK23 is different than my Kimber 1911. I can get hearing safe loads for all my guns, except….

    My .223/556 are hot and I wear hearing protection always while shooting it (Surefire SOCOM RC).

    Someone posted a bolt action makes a gun with a silencer VERY quiet. The silencer makes the round leaving the gun quiet. It does nothing to reduce the sound of the action. If the round is loud enough to cause hearing damage, a quieter action will be unnoticeable.

    I have a CMMG .22 dedicated upper on the way and will use it with a binary trigger and one of my .22 cans/silencers/suppressors. Luckily I have thousands of cheap .22 ammo bought a while ago.

    • Cato,

      I stated that a bolt-action rifle shooting sub-sonic ammunition with a suppressor can be surprisingly quiet. That particular comment was not in reference to hearing-safe versus not hearing-safe. It was more about whether or not potential victims would be able to hear an attacker using a firearm with a suppressor. Apologies if I mixed-and-matched considerations about hearing-safe and concerns about enabling spree-killers to murder.

      To be clear with respect to people who think that everyone turns into an assassin with a firearm when it has a suppressor: the overall audio signature of a suppressed semi-auto firearm shooting subsonic ammunition can still be surprisingly loud due to the amount of sound energy that the bolt/slide produces as it slams back and forth.

      Of course this entire concern about suppressors enabling people to be silent assassins is silly when you consider how anyone can be a silent assassin when they employ archery equipment, edge weapons, Garrote wires, bludgeons, poison, and toxic chemical gases.

      • ‘…the overall audio signature of a suppressed semi-auto firearm shooting subsonic ammunition can still be surprisingly loud due to the amount of sound energy that the bolt/slide produces as it slams back and forth.’

        Not really. Not nearly as loud as a hammer hitting a nail, lawn mower, power saw, wood shaper, or all the other crap I use daily.

        I live in a normal neighborhood near the center of the city in Omaha NE. Houses are separated by driveways on one side and 15’ or less on the other. If I take any of my guns and work the actions, even letting them slam forward, my neighbors might hear something, but wouldn’t associate it with a gun. It wouldn’t be loud. No one would notice.

        I’ve shot semi auto pistols (suppressed) in my back yard with subs to finish off animals my Huskies have paralyzed but not killed (Glock 44 and Ruger MK 2). If I shot one of my 9mm with 147gr subs, the impact of the round would be as loud as the gun going off. Depending on where someone was standing, they would hear a pop from the gun or the smack of a round hitting something. No one would think it was a firearm going off. They might think air rifle/pistol.

        I’ve seen ‘experts’ on TV say suppressed rounds are as loud as a jackhammer. The comparison is asinine. The perceived sound level is much different with something lasting a small fraction of a second. As an engineer working around loud equipment and subject to annual noise level evals and hearing tests, one critical factor to assess damage is the length of time of exposure. You will never see someone hear a jackhammer and say ‘holy shit, someone is shooting a semi-auto gun, suppressed, with or without subsonic ammunition’.

        • Cato,

          All good points–and all good data points.

          No question, the action cycling on some semi-autos is not very loud. The action cycling on some is surprisingly loud, although nothing near damaging your hearing. I have had actions cycle on some semi-autos that actually caused my ears to ring for about 30 seconds or so. Maybe I have extra sensitive hearing and/or uncharacteristically loud actions.

          With respect to semi-auto actions which are on the loud end of the scale when they cycle, I agree that many people would not pay any attention. Some (myself included) who recognize the distinctive sound of action cycling would immediately pay attention.

  10. I can only hope for the day when you can walk into a Gun Muffler shop as easily as you can walk into a Midas Muffler shop today for the same reason, not to annoy the neighbors.
    Only teens and idiots would not use them, much like “Drag Pipe” aficionados today.

  11. If we were astute, we would use the word “muffler”.

    As well put by the OP, it’s one of the two words used in the law and used by the inventor.

    ‘Oh, you don’t like the idea that gun owners use mufflers on their muzzles? Why not? Don’t you have a muffler on your car? What does it do for you? Reduces the noise your car makes? Makes life more pleasant for neighbors and passersby? But doesn’t it make it harder for pedestrians to recognize that your car is coming down the road? That they should step out of the way to be safe? Don’t you think the government should place a tax on your muffler? So that every time you go to Midas to replace your muffler you should pay an extra $200 tax? And you should register it? Get finger-printed?’

  12. I wonder, should the ATF come knockin’ can one claim to have no idea what a silencer is because they’re not an engineer?

    If that sort of ignorance works for the SCOTUS it should work us useless eaters, right?

    It seems with that poor fella who put a stock on a pistol it was his admission of knowledge that sealed the deal. Perhaps, ignorance is an excuse after all. Well, ignorance and some flavor from the victimization hierarchy.

  13. The article could be summed up in one word: “yes.”

    I personally call ’em mufflers as I’ve found that the hoi polloi understands that term well enough without explanation.

  14. How about shoosher? I tried yelling into a motorcycle muffler and it really freaked me out how much it quieted it coming out. Thought I lost my voice for a second!

  15. THe fact is that it’s very very difficult to SILENCE any firearm completely and almost impossible with high velocity. Anything over truly SUPERSONIC MV will always make a noise I have always thought the at a better description might be a NOISE MODERATOR. Anyway whatever you call them they are, for all intents and purpose, completely and utterly flucking useless in everyday use and only get in the bloody way and reduce accuracy. The ONLY real use is to KILL PEOPLE silently. In other words for ASSASSINATIONS and MURDER and some very limited MILITARY applications they have no other use.
    The only ‘silenced’ weapon I’ve ever used [and I was for some years a Sgt Armourer and Smallarms Instructor in the Royal Air Force] is a ‘silenced STERLING’ courtesy of the SAS in Bradbury Lines . These Sterlings used the MK1Z Low Velocity [LUGER] 9mm Parabellum with, as I remember, an MV of around 700fps as opposed to the normal MV of MK2Z [NATO issue] of around 1200fps. They were about as accurate as a spitball and only useful for real up-close, covert and personal engagements but they were pretty quiet as I remember. None of the ‘hooligans’ I met had never actually used them operationally. However these STERLINGS were standard issue for the ARGENTINIAN MARINES who led the original invasion of the FALKLAND ISLANDS – for all the good it did them.
    By the wayn bthere is a lot of comment about the accuracy of Subbies. I could shoot on a good s day a 6” group at 50mtrs with a STERLING and if Allowed to adjust the barrel to best advantage with a STEN as well. With the STEN the barrel was a screw in and and a reasonable Armourer could rotate the barrel to a sweet spot for accuracy. The ‘official’ line was turn a few degree shoot five and repeat.
    There was a lot of comment about dropping a STEN could ‘bounce’ the bolt back far enough to pick up a round and fire it.
    We tried without success but I suppose it is possible and if anything is possible with a firearm some cretin WILL find a way though only one round would be fired

  16. AR .223 Fake Suppressor Silencer:

    Solid Machined Construction
    Heat Treated & Black Oxide Finish
    Threads at the end of the Barrel
    Length: 7.06”
    OD: 1.25”
    Weight: 11.8 oz
    .223/5.56 NATO
    Thread: ½ x 28


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