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Silencer vs Suppressor: What’s the difference?

Silencer vs Suppressor: What’s the difference?
August 17, 2023 Edited August 21, 2023 7617 view(s)
Silencer vs Suppressor: What’s the difference?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, my TV was always on with the classic action movies of the time. We’re talking The Terminator and T2 (before the franchise turned to trash), Lethal Weapon 1-3, Commando, and Predator. The list goes on and on, and it’d be a lie to say those didn’t influence my passion for shooting. 

Of all the accessories of the era, nothing was cooler than watching the hero spin a silencer onto their iron and do the work of saving the day. Integrally suppressed MP5? Superhero bonus points. 

Of course, real-world applications aren’t usually as glamorous as the movies. 

Operators use a suppressor not to be discreet but instead to not blow out their eardrums, clearing a room. Hunters need to be able to hear a twig branch, so they shoot without their ears on. A suppressor gets them a lot closer to a safe noise level instead of an unsuppressed high-power rifle. 

Let’s find out the difference between a silencer and a suppressor, what they are well suited for, and what you need to own one. 


What’s The Difference In A Silencer Vs. A Suppressor

Guy holding AR-15 with Silencer attached

Functionally, there is no difference because they are not different things. They are just different names. 

Technically speaking, though, a silencer is not altogether honest or accurate. No suppressor can completely silence a gunshot; some can only close the shot to safe levels. 


Does The Name Matter?

No, the name doesn’t really matter that much. Like the sound of ‘silencer?’ Go with it. Suppressor is what they mostly go by, but muffler is alright, too. 


A History Of Silencers

The idea of toning down the volume of gunshots is not anything new. The NRA wrote an outstanding piece on the history of suppressors, so we’ll let them speak for themselves. But it should be said that developing machine guns and suppressors was a family affair; Hiram Percy Maxim built the first successful, commercially available silencer, and his dad built the first portable machine gun. 

Unfortunately, despite the undeniable strengths of using a device to suppress the dangerous noise levels of all firearms, the Federal Government felt it necessary to regulate these devices under the National Firearms Act of 1934. 

The $200 tax stamp pretty much shut down any advances in the mechanics of suppressor technology. Yes, the tax stamp has stayed the same price since 1934. And yes, $200 represented a LOT more money in 1934 than it does now. Not that it is paltry now; $200 is $200. 

But back then, $200 equals roughly $4,539.21, according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator. While this is not exact, it is probably pretty close. I don’t know about you, but I don't have that sort of cash to put toward paperwork. Even if I did, I wouldn’t want to.

AR-15 with silencer attached


Where Does the Term Come From?

The name silencer was just a sales tactic. High-powered rifles are so notoriously loud that anything to reduce the sound levels could be considered a silencing function, so the name silencer more or less stuck.

Again, silencers, or suppressors as you want to call them, have gone for decades with no considerable design changes.

They still more or less resemble an aluminum or steel can, and if you were to cut one open, you would find it full of baffles to reduce muzzle flash and reduce the sound of the report.

But mostly, it was a sales tactic. Silencer has a better ring to it than a suppressor because it brings to mind that you were actually silencing the sound, which you are not. 

Really, the best that you can hope for is to take it down to safe hearing levels to where you don’t need to wear your protection all the time. In tactical situations, it gives a significant advantage to go safely without protection and hear your team members and leader.


Suppressor Legal Requirements

Firearm suppressors fall under the national firearms act of 1934. They are Class III weapons that require a $200 tax stamp to buy one legally.

Beyond the inconvenience of paying an extra $200 for an item that’s already costing you hundreds of dollars, call them, and you will spend months waiting on the ATF to process your request.

We don’t make the rules; that’s just how it is.

Most of you already know this, but it’s a separate tax stamp for every national firearms act item on your weapon, so if it’s a short-barrel rifle, that’s one tax stamp; if it’s fully automatic, that’s another tax stamp, and, of course, if you run a suppressor, that’s another tax stamp.

We aren’t here to tell you what to do with your money, but if we were to pick a single thing to get a tax stamp on, it would have to be a sound suppressor for your rifle or pistol, especially if you have an AR-15 pistol, which can be absolutely deafening.

Two silencers displayed on a wooden box

What Else?

We have determined that there is no technical difference between a silencer, a suppressor or a muffling device.

They are all just variations of the same thing: a battle device that seriously reduces the muzzle, flash, and report of a gunshot.

Fortunately, there are sound suppressors for all sizes of firearms, and some are much more effective than others. Pistol calibers are much easier to make substantially quieter than high-powered rifle calibers, which is mostly to do with subsonic versus supersonic munitions.

A .22 Long Rifle suppressor is the closest thing you’re going to get to silent; these are extraordinarily quiet. Our rimfire options are great paired up with suppressors such as our pistol caliber carbines in 9mm Parabellum, 45 ACP, and 10mm.


Final Thoughts

Whatever you want to call it whether it’s a silencer or a suppressor, these devices are an excellent investment in your overall health. You only get one set of ears and need to save them and preserve your hearing.

Sound suppressors pair wonderfully with our entire line of rifles, especially a .300 Blackout with subsonic ammo paired up with a sound suppressor or a threaded barrel for your Glock to run a suppressor on your Glock pistol. And, of course, our classic 5.56 AR-15s are a natural fit for various suppressors.


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Mike Harendt
August 17, 2023
I understand that suppressors on most revolvers are compromised because of the gap between the cylinder and barrel. Tokarev and some Webley models come to mind as possible exceptions. Also, supersonic ammunition creates a noise when it breaks the sound barrier. Your article regarding noise reduction devices and the benefits of their use is well written and received.
Doug Bedore
August 26, 2023
I have a FN 5.7 with a Suppressor, Will that Suppressor also work with a 223 caliber from your AR 15?
Milan M
November 5, 2023
No most 5.7 suppressors cove 22 cal 17 hmr now if you get a dedicated can for 556 it starts about 350 ish and goes up plus tax stamp also there's always a transfer fee there's no getting out of it unless you purchase it from a shop that's normally a 100 that's mainly for buying them online
Marc Garrez
August 26, 2023
Does the tax stamp cover one suppressor that i could use on various firearms (all 556 just different barrel lengths) or does the suppressor tax stamp to one?
November 5, 2023
once you get the stamp for the suppressor, you can put it on any firearm (multiple firearms) you want.
Tim Lovern
November 5, 2023
The stamp covers the suppressor itself. You can move it between weapons easily, depending on the mount and the barrel. I move a 7.62 suppressor between .223, .308 and .300 blackout. It works with all of those calibers. It isn't as efficient with .223 because the opening is larger than it needs to be to work with the .308 diameter bullets.
Milan M
November 5, 2023
If you get a multi can yes just one tax stamp but keep in mind you'll have different end caps and threads to purchase for different calibers
November 5, 2023
The tax stamp goes along with the suppressor, it has nothing to do with the rifle or pistol you use it on. So, you are better off getting a multi-caliber suppressor that you can exchange with multiple firearms. So, yes you can use on all of them with no issues.
Randy Haskins
November 6, 2023
If your suppressor is designed for other calibers, yes you can switch it to another firearm. The suppressor Tax Stamp is not gun specific
A. Nonymus
November 6, 2023
Yes. The tax stamp would be for the one suppressor. And therefore could be put on any firearm it was compatible with.
Tony M.
August 26, 2023
The name "silencer" came from HP Maxim when he invented the things. As a result, the term is also the official term used by the ATF on their paperwork. The British still use the term for car mufflers, which were another of his inventions using similar technology. As for the comments from the above responder about revolvers, the models you're thinking of are the Nagant revolvers which had a gas sealing technology as part of the patented design. There have been a few other specialized builds, like the Tunnel Rat guns built for special forces in Vietnam, the first ones were just S&W model 10's with sionics cans screwed on. it reduces the muzzle blast enough to make a difference, but still wasn't very quiet. Later they built special N-frame revolvers using captive piston ammunition. Those were interesting, but like the Soviet era captured piston guns/ammo, they're a little beyond the scope of most shooters and collectors in the US as every round of ammunition requires a tax stamp. There have been other more recent attempts, but as a rule the systems were unwieldy and expensive, and are rare.
November 6, 2023
Every Round Requires a Tax Stamp?
Dave Stratford
November 5, 2023
Since the tax stamp goes with the suppressor, what pistol / rifle combos do you like the best? You could move the suppressor from a pistol caliber to a rifle of similar caliber.
November 5, 2023
Under 'What Else' it should be "baffle device"
Ron S
November 5, 2023
“Silencer” wasn’t just a sales tactic; it was the name of the device in Maxim’s original patent.
Tim Love
November 6, 2023
Great article, laid out clean and simple for us older, sometimes confused, folk who already have significant hearing loss from long-term, mandatory, military training, followed by lots of subsequent civilian range time just for the fun of it.
November 7, 2023
would this be a safety device as in an OSHA item to protect a person's hearing
November 7, 2023
I would think that this item should be an safety device to protect hearing much as OSHA requires safety glasses ( and no tax )
Lee williams
November 7, 2023
only problem is a supressor is not a firearm and legal all over the world considered a courtesy if used in England but here even in the 1930s our moronic gov put it on a registry and reguire paper work and treat it like its a big deal it is not a firearm and should not be regulated
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