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.
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.