In 1902, Hiram Percy Maxim invented the suppressor for commercial use. Maxim went on to patent the Maxim Silencer in 1909, and heavily marketed the silencer to outdoor sportsmen looking to enhance their shooting experience and suppress the sound from their firearms.
Nowadays, the term silencer is used more so as the legal definition in both state and federal regulations, as well as on all ATF Forms because of Maxim’s patented legal term. With that being said, the patented legal term is silencer and its purpose is to suppress sound.
Does the Name Really Matter?
There is no difference between a silencer and a suppressor, and the terms are 100 percent interchangeable. Whether someone uses the term "suppressor" or "silencer," they’re referring to the same device. Some say a silencer is for reducing the sound and a suppressor is for reducing the muzzle flash. In addition to the muzzle flash, a suppressor does reduce the sound as well. Nothing completely silences a gun despite what Hollywood portrays, so technically the term silencer is incorrect, but it is used by the majority of the public.
Back when Maxim patented the silencer, there were few to no laws when it came to marketing a new product, so making lofty claims was the order of the day. Maxim advertised that his crude silencer device made of stamped sheet metal baffles stacked inside a steel tube would render a firearm silent. Despite what you see in the movies, this is pretty much impossible unless you’re using a specially engineered and machined suppressor combined with specific subsonic ammo.
The primary issue with these two terms is that people get confused when researching the topic. After all, suppressor vs silencer does sound like similar but different terms. In reality, there’s no difference and you can call a silencer a suppressor, or a suppressor a silencer. It’s completely up to you.
Requirements and Use of Suppressors
The National Firearms Act of 1934 restricted and regulated the use of suppressors on firearms and halted their development for the next 40 years. The restrictions and regulations negatively affected organized crime violence, but the US military began experimenting with suppressors of their own.
Some customers have different needs for their suppressors besides suppressing the sound. Where civilians tend to look at sound suppression, versatility, and accuracy, the military tends to focus on reduced blowback, long-term reliability, and in some cases, reducing the flash from the muzzle. When referring to muzzle flash, that’s where we see the term suppressor used a lot.
These are also called flash hiders, but they are still referred to as flash suppressors within the shooting industry and do exactly what you’d expect; suppress the flash. This means that a suppressor is technically any attachment that suppresses one or more signatures from shooting a firearm. However, everyday use of the term suppressor usually refers to noise reduction instead of the flash hider version.
If you’re ever in a conversation and have to discuss both of these attachment types, it might be appropriate to use the term silencer when discussing sound suppression and use the term suppressor when discussing flash suppression. Or just stick to using one term for both. It’s really up to you.
Military Use of Silencers…Or are they Suppressors?
During the Vietnam War, the Swimmer Weapons System program developed a suppressed pistol for UDT Teams and Navy SEAL Teams. They used a modified 9mm Smith & Wesson M39 pistol with a detachable suppressor called the Mk22. That suppressor became known among Vietnam-era frogmen as the Hush Puppy.
The name implies its actual use. It was used against dogs and other animals to avoid detection.
The Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), carried Uzis with detachable suppressors for clandestine parachute operations.
The United States Marine Corps is currently in the process of issuing suppressors to standard 03XX infantry units. Recon Marines and Marine Raiders have already been using suppressors for years, but the widespread introduction of suppressors to regular infantry units is going to be a game-changer on the battlefield.
These suppressors will reduce the visual flash signature and the noise signature produced by the M4 carbine platform. Suppressors minimize, but don’t completely eradicate noise and also help reduce the muzzle flash and recoil.
These benefits of suppressors will result in the Marines being able to fight more effectively, communicate better during combat, and reduce hearing loss issues.
The Marine Corps is well on its way to distributing 30,000 suppressors to 03XX units worldwide by the end of 2023.
Although both terms, suppressor vs silencer, can be used interchangeably, many people still insist that only one or the other is correct. It can be a source of contention similar to the never-ending 9mm vs .45 debate.
To cut through the confusion of the two terms, think of them like this.
Silencer is the patented legal term.
Suppressor is the definition of what the device does; it suppresses sound, flash, and recoil.
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