What is a Gun Silencer?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A gun silencer, which may also be called a sound moderator or a suppressor is a device that attaches to the end of a gun and helps to diminish the noise that a gun creates when it fires. There are several people who worked on creating the gun silencer, at around the same time in the early 1900s. Of these people, the name Hiram Maxim often is mentioned, since he manufactured and sold silencers in 1902 and thereafter.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Since a firing gun is very loud, it made good sense to reduce the noise it produces. A number of people used gun silencers in a variety of applications. These tubelike devices are used on things like rifles and on pistols. Many models have what are called baffles that separate the chambers of the gun silencer. Many silencers are significantly wider than the muzzles or barrels of guns and the shooting apparatus of the gun on which they’re used.

The basic idea is that when a gun fires it release an extraordinary amount of gas, and in a highly compressed environment, this gas will naturally make a large sound. If you can open up the chambers into which this gas is released so that it has room to expand, sound will be lessened. This is why the silencer tends to have a bigger chamber than does the actual gun. By giving a place for the gas to bleed off and expand slowly, you reduce sound of the firing weapon significantly.

This doesn’t mean a gun silencer completely decreases sound. There are many models and the baffles can wear out after a while. The sound may still be heard and recognized as a gunshot. In open areas, especially outside, the sound can carry quite a fair distance, but it really depends upon the type of gun silencer being used and the type of firearm.

The name itself is thus a little deceptive because it really doesn't eliminate noise; it instead reduces sound. Suppressor may be a more accurate term. It’s also misunderstood that silencers are simply used by those who want to engage in criminal behavior.

This is definitely not the case. Many legal gun owners use silencers, and they are frequently used by military forces and hunters. However some countries regulate the sale of silencers. This is true in Canada and Austria, where silencers are prohibited. In some countries like Sweden, you can use a silencer for certain purposes, like hunting, and other countries may require a license to use one. In the US, just about 80% of states allow possession of silencers.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


A silencer isn't necessarily used for criminal purposes only. There are times when you will want to silence the blast from your pistol. A pistol is very loud and, even with ear protection, there can be some risk of hearing damage. A silencer could be just the thing for that.

On the other hand, you don't need a silencer if home protection is your goal. If someone is in your house, there are some advantages to simply blazing away with a pistol. If you don't hit the robber (for example), you might scare him enough that he runs and hides.


@Logicfest -- Here's an addendum. If someone tries to sell you a silencer for a revolver, the chances are good you are being conned. Don't fall for that. A revolver is almost impossible to silence.


You know those television shows that show a silencer on a revolver? Looks cool, right?

The only problem is that a silencer won't work on a revolver. The chambers on a revolver are somewhat open, meaning that sound leaks from them. A semi-auto pistol is a different matter because the noise is largely confined in one area and silencing that area can work.

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