What Is the Difference Between a Silencer & a Suppressor?

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What Is the Difference Between a Silencer & a Suppressor?
Muzzle of a handgun (Gun image by __PeTe__ from Fotolia.com)

Silencers and suppressors both have specific roles in gun technology. A silencer is meant to do exactly that--silence the weapon as it fires a bullet. A suppressor is used to suppress the muzzle flash and air discharge as a bullet leaves the barrel. Both have pros and cons and can be used in specific situations.

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Silencers and Suppressors

Silencers and suppressors are used to make a firearm stealthy. A silencer is meant to cancel all the noise, while a suppressor by default will cancel some noise, but is meant to hide the flash of a firearm. Due to the fact that both will cancel out noise, the terms silencer and suppressor are commonly and inaccurately interchanged.

Benefits of a Silencer

A silencer prohibits the noise from a gunpowder explosion from leaving the weapon. The only noises heard from a weapon with a silencer is the action of the extraction chamber discharging a spent shell and loading a new one.

Disadvantages of a Silencer

Silencers do not silence the bullet as it travels through the air and breaks the sound barrier. Silencers are also extremely expensive and require special paperwork as well as a tax paid to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Benefits of a Suppressor

Suppressors can limit or eliminate the muzzle flash of a weapon, which can provide an advantage in situations with low light where a flash would give away your position.

Drawbacks to a Suppressor

Suppressors do not and are not meant to resist the noise of a weapon in the same way as a silencer. Suppressors do allow noise to escape the weapon and also can come loose during operation.


Both suppressors and silencers should only be installed by a competent gunsmith. Catastrophic failure can result from a silencer or suppressor that is improperly installed and can cause death or serious injury.

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