Saturday, March 28, 2015

Myths of "Fight Club": The Homemade Silencer

This will be a series about Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel is famous for the popular movie adaptation, but also for the numerous anarchist "recipes" provided in the text. Throughout the book, the narrator and Tyler Durden provide various tips and methods for everything from making nitroglycerin to how to make a silencer. Palahniuk has claimed he carefully researched all of them and apparently a lot of people believe him. I'd like to set the record straight: Fight Club is full of lies. Today, we'll talk about his "homemade silencer."

"With my tongue I can feel the silencer holes we drilled into the barrel of the gun. Most of the noise a gunshot makes is expanding gases, and there's the tiny sonic boom a bullet makes because it travels so fast. To make a silencer, you just drill holes in the barrel of the gun, a lot of holes. This lets the gas escape and slows the bullet to below the speed of sound. You drill the holes wrong and the gun will blow off your hand."

This is the first "fact" in the novel, and also completely wrong. In fact, it's so wrong that it's clear the author doesn't know anything about guns. If real guns worked like this, life would be a lot easier. First, let's review what a real silencer is, how it works, and why this wouldn't work.

Technically, what pop culture calls a "silencer" is known as a "suppressor." A suppressor "is a device attached to or part of the barrel of a firearm...which reduces the amount of noise and visible muzzle flash generated by firing." It doesn't really "silence" a gunshot, just makes it a little less noticeable. But it's still pretty loud, not the quiet "puff" they usually do in spy movies.

So we can already see problems with Palaniuk's description.

The gases of a gun firing don't cause the bullet to go faster than sound. The explosion does. There are actually three things that create the sound of a gunshot, and a sonic boom is just one component. The other two elements are "muzzle blast" (created by the high temperature and high pressure gases escaping after the bullet is fired) and "mechanical noise" (created by moving parts of the firearm). By far, the largest element of the gunshot is muzzle blast, not the sonic boom.

All suppressors work by reducing the muzzle blast, not the sonic boom. They "reduce noise by allowing the rapidly expanding gases from the firing of the cartridge to be decelerated and cooled through a series of hollow chambers."

 The way to reduce the sonic boom isn't by drilling holes in the barrel to let out the gas. Gas is already escaping from the barrel. You don't need to drill holes to let them out. Also, silencers don't slow down bullets. The only real way to reduce a bullet to subsonic speeds is with special subsonic ammunition. But slowing down the bullet also reduces its impact and penetration, so it's not something you would usually want.

Bottom line, if it was as easy as drilling holes, silencers wouldn't need to be banned in certain states and countries.

I liked how Palahniuk added the part about blowing your hand off, so no one would try it and find out he was making it up.

Now, let me put my money where my mouth is. How do you really make a homemade silencer? Here's a video. Haven't tried it myself, but it seems legit. More legit than Palahniuk's version.

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