Guns for Beginners: “Silencer” or “Suppressor?”


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…


  1. avatar CGinTX says:

    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!?


    1. avatar TTACer says:

      Did you put a firearm muffler on your roscoe as well?

      1. avatar Chris Joyce says:

        No, but I put a quietener on my mohaska.

    2. avatar Sock Monkey says:

      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.

      1. avatar BlueBronco says:

        Argue with the ATF on a Form 1 or Form 4 and tell us out it goes with your Tax Stamp.

        1. avatar Sock Monkey says:

          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. avatar Ben says:

        Are we ignoring the part where the inventor named it a silencer?

  2. avatar Red in Texas says:

    😀 😀 😀 😀

    Thanks for the laugh, Jeremy, I really needed one.

  3. avatar Johnston says:

    Detachable penis.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Says Johnson? You’re kidding!

    2. avatar dh34 says:

      Wasn’t there a song about the perils of having a detachable penis?

      1. avatar Rick says:

        Just for you

  4. avatar Governmentknowsbest says:

    Fine from now on I use “gun muffler”

  5. avatar Craig says:

    “CAN. C. A. N. CAN.”

    1. avatar KCK says:

      Yes we CAN

  6. avatar Mickey R. says:

    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.

    1. avatar Jeremy S says:

      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 😉

      1. avatar Evan says:

        It was the Maxim Silencer Company I believe.

      2. avatar 16V says:

        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.

    2. avatar treefroggy says:

      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 .

  7. avatar Jim R says:

    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..

  8. avatar Matt in FL says:

    Wow, this reads nearly identically to several comments I’ve made over the last couple years. Maybe I should write for TTAG.

    1. avatar Vhyrus says:

      My irony just exploded.

    2. avatar S.CROCK says:

      Maybe you should really bring back the daily digest. Liked those and miss them a lot.

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

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

    1. avatar Cliff H says:

      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.

  10. avatar 'liljoe says:

    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.

    1. avatar Wellthen says:

      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.

  11. avatar Bill Kohnke says:

    I prefer ‘hush cloth’. It’s an archaic term, rather like the 1934 law.

  12. avatar zeksteve says:

    I prefer hushpuppy since I use them on barking dogs. I kid i kid

  13. avatar BeauL says:

    Wasn’t “hush puppy” an old U.S. military slang for a suppressor back in the day?

    1. avatar Chris says:

      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.

  14. avatar Another Bob says:

    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)

    1. avatar Nick says:

      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.

    2. avatar Matt in FL says:

      None of them have, intentionally, the action of “slowing the projectile down.” It might happen, but it’s incidental, not by design.

      1. avatar Jeremy S says:

        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.

        1. avatar Red in Texas says:

          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.

  15. avatar Ralph says:

    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.

    1. avatar Red in Texas says:

      Well, a shoestring can be considered a machinegun, and scouring pads considered silencer parts, so…………………..

    2. avatar Matt in FL says:

      I think you were supposed to drop a “spoiler alert” in there somewhere.

  16. avatar Paul53 says:

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

    1. avatar Nick says:

      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…”

      1. avatar 16V says:

        Catalysts of almost all forms are rapidly poisoned by lead.

  17. avatar mike says:

    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.

    1. avatar Ben says:

      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.

  18. avatar Hello World says:

    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”).

  19. avatar ValleyForge77 says:

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

  20. avatar Matt G says:

    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.

  21. avatar pun&gun says:

    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.

  22. avatar superJ says:

    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”…

  23. avatar Aaron says:

    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”.

  24. avatar Jim says:

    Firearm muffler? I much prefer my guns straight piped…same for my truck.

  25. avatar Kevin says:

    How bout those oil can adapters on eBay? What are they? 🙂

    1. avatar Jeremy S says:

      Constructive possessions.

  26. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    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…

    1. avatar Asd says:

      No he’s not lazy he just has more important parts of his life than being politically correct

  27. avatar Don from CT says:

    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.


  28. avatar BlueBronco says:

    Of course there are companies that makes silencers . . .

    And there are companies that sell silencers . . .

  29. avatar C says:

    Silencer is to suppressor what assault weapon is to sports rifle.

    I make no bones about being a hopeless pedant.

  30. avatar Gene says:

    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.

  31. avatar Justin Bradburn says:

    The only correct term is silencer.

  32. avatar Scotty Crawford says:

    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.

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