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🎨 Creative A realistic science fiction future without guns

Adam Reynolds

Registered User
Validated User
What are some effective ways of creating a science fiction future in which guns don't exist anymore? The motive here is somewhat obvious, but the thing I am struggling with is that I otherwise tend to like siding with realism, and from a realism standpoint this is a hard thing to do. Guns are generally the most frequently used combat weapon for a reason, because they are so effective at increasing the range at which one can inflict violence. As long as this is a goal, guns aren't likely to go anywhere.

So I'll start with the most obvious and problematic substitutes, bows and swords. The problem is that there is utterly no way these make sense. The idea of Hawkeye as a character with a diverse variety of projectiles doesn't describe an archer, it describes a grenadier. Katniss is slightly justified by the fact that she is not really a front line soldier, but she is still able to take down bombers with arrows, which is hardly believable in any context. Bows may be silent, but even primitive firearms are superior overall, otherwise they would have never replaced bows in the first place.

Swords could be slightly better as some kind of ritualistic weapon, but are at least as hard to justify from a practical standpoint. Dune is one of the more notable examples, as their use of force fields makes guns all but useless. The problem is that this does not logically create a world in which wars would be fought with knives instead of guns, it creates one in which wars would be fought with vehicles instead of infantry, because they could not possibly be a threat to shielded vehicles. Armored and shielded bulldozers would instead be the most powerful weapons in existence because nothing could possibly get through their shield slow enough as long as they are moving, while they could also plow mines out of the way. Also, minefields and other explosives would utterly decimate a shielded infantry charge.

Probably the best option is powered armor, if you're willing to ignore a few practical problems, but this has a similar problem to the Dune example in a different sense. If you can build powered armor, you can more easily build a man sized drone to do the job instead. While there might be a desire to keep a "man in the loop," there is no reason for that man to be physically present directly within the armor most of the time. The macho aviator culture hasn't really protected fighter pilots completely. While drones may not be taking over immediately, justifying better powered armor without better AI also seems problematic. While this is also a problem for manned spacecraft, one of the best arguments there doesn't work, that you need people on site because of speed of light lag. Soldiers in powered armor would also likely suffer from worse versions of the same injuries as football players, with rampant concussions and other blunt trauma.

The other problem with powered armor is that this would not really serve to eliminate guns entirely, it would instead serve to change them. Soldiers would essentially all need light anti-tank weapons as a standard weapon, with things like 40mm armor piercing grenades becoming standard issue. So instead of soldiers wielding assault rifles, they would instead wield anti-tank rifles or grenade launchers in order to fire projectiles that could penetrate most powered armor, possibly with a regular rifle to fight their opposite numbers. It might serve to all but eliminate civilian and perhaps law enforcement gun ownership or usage, probably for the better, but it would not totally eliminate them as a practical weapon for soldiers. Powered armor also has another problem, that it would tend to consolidate power as opposed to being an equalizer in the way that guns can be to an extent (though not to the degree claimed by their advocates).

Are there any good ideas I'm not thinking of?
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
Given your limits, I can see one reason - a society of functional immortals where lethal weaponry is drastically unacceptable. In that case, you'd have tangler grenades, tear gas, stunners, and similar non-lethal weapons.
 

DarkStarling

Brilliantly Crazed
Validated User
As for a setting like Dune, where shielding makes guns an ineffective weapon, there's a useful saying. Artillery kills people, infantry takes their stuff. Same applies to aircraft and tanks now. Infantry has a very different role, which actually be radically expanded once personal shielding of some variety makes pike formations and the like relevant again.

As for how they deal with vehicles like bulldozers when they can't shoot them? If you can get close enough to touch them, you can come up with something. Even if it's just 'slap a bomb on it.' And it could be as fancy as 'spears tipped with an rpg.' Or better. This is sci-fi after all.

Minefields always are bad for infantry. If you can't deal with them by stampeding a herd of cows or something, firing rockets overhead trailing det cord or the local equivalent is the thing. Or use the bulldozers for mine clearing and guard them with the spearmen. Or something. It's not like an explosion that isn't inside your shield will hurt you, that's just like bullets.

The point is that you can make the setting work pretty easily so infantry makes sense even if guns don't. The better question is what stops combat in your setting being dominated by melee-based battlebots. Assuming you don't want that kind of thing of course...

(The simplest answer, by the way, is money. Organics in general and humans in specific are much less resource intensive to produce and maintain than robots, so they give an edge in the logistics and manufacturing base side of the war)
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
justifying better powered armor without better AI also seems problematic
I don't think that's problematic at all. AI is hard. Whether powered armor itself makes sense is another matter.

there is no reason for that man to be physically present directly within the armor most of the time.
Jamming.

We have no real idea what war between two high-tech societies looks like now. Modern wars are either two low-tech sides (low tech meaning machine guns and radio but not advanced electronics and satellites), or the US vs. low-tech. What would a US-US war look like today?

But, that's a tangent. As for realistically doing away with guns, I got nothing. Dune forcefields seem the best bet for an SF-magic solution. Other 'magic' solutions like "something sets off gunpowder" don't work; we can build air guns or portable coil/rail guns now which would be better than bows, and it's what I'd expect we would turn to if Alien Space Bats somehow blocked all gunpowders.

There's always "Alien Space Bats destroy anything that looks like a gun".
 

pstjmack

Registered User
Validated User
I don't see a problem from either the technological or the cultural side. Just extrapolating from current technology, you can have drone swarms instead of bullets. Why would anyone bother with an unguided dumb projectile when an even smaller one can fly round corners and explode on impact? It doesn't have to be fired out of a tube. Similarly, lasers or other energy weapons could be fired from lenses or little bulbs or what have you. Most current Battlefield laser designs for ships and emplacements look more like searchlights than guns.

Culturally, you can have a civilisation like Iain Banks' The Culture where war between members is extinct and most manipulation of physical matter is done by drones with energy fields. Or a telepathic civilisation where conflict is mental. Or a civilization that has gone so virtual that the most effective conflict is cyber warfare.
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Guns are inferior to nukes, but the general consensus is that's not a path anybody is willing to open up for conflict resolution. Similarly, a culture with some time and impetus to change may agree that other forms of weaponry are just not acceptable.

This is fairly easy to imagine in a spacefaring society, actually, because the general result of shooting a gun in an airtight vessel is that you shoot the vessel. Usually directly, because the standard use of bullets is to make a lot of noise and scare people rather than kill them directly, and if you're not hitting people you're hitting the everything else part of the vessel. This will do several things. First, you risk a fire, which is "everybody dies" territory. Second, you risk a leak, which is "everybody dies" territory. Third, you risk damaging flight systems, which is "everybody dies" territory. Fourth, you risk fragments of the bullet getting loose in the vessel, which could get caught in flight systems, which is "everybody dies" territory. Most of these omnideaths don't happen immediately, and can be repaired given the correct equipment, knowledge, and inclination; but guns are a great deal more serious in space than they are planetside.

Even then, guns will still exist. They'll just be treated with a lot more caution. You might have a starship where the captain has a safe in her cabin, and that safe contains two clips and a sidearm, and that means the captain can activate "kill everybody" at any time and knows it. Planetside, the government might maintain an arsenal containing two hundred rifles, but the standards for actually unlocking the arsenal are something like "98% of our people are dead and we're out of options". Nobody ever wants to pick up a gun, because it's a symbol of everybody dying.

There is one special case in this scenario: Earth. Most people on Earth will never have gone to space, because barring extremely high tech bases, it's hard and expensive and there aren't that many ships. So most Earthlings will never have evolved the cultural taboo against firearms, and while they'll probably have picked it up from spacers, they won't be as rigorous about it as the colonies. You might still have ranchers with family guns, to which spacers will react approximately the same way you or I would react if we saw a five-year-old wandering around with the nuclear football.
 

artikid

passerby
Validated User
Nanites.
Everybody owns their own swarm and use it for everything: from creating tools and things like clothes, food, whatever, to bursting an enemy apart.
 

Rupert

Active member
Validated User
I don't see a problem from either the technological or the cultural side. Just extrapolating from current technology, you can have drone swarms instead of bullets. Why would anyone bother with an unguided dumb projectile when an even smaller one can fly round corners and explode on impact? It doesn't have to be fired out of a tube.
Because guns are cheap and easy to make, and their bullets cheaper yet. Warheads capable of defeating modern body armour via explosive energy are actually quite large, and the electronics required for a drone delivery system make them larger again, and yet you'll still need to be firing many, many of them per casualty you cause.

Similarly, lasers or other energy weapons could be fired from lenses or little bulbs or what have you. Most current Battlefield laser designs for ships and emplacements look more like searchlights than guns.
They might be the weapon of the future, or they might not. Lasers have many drawbacks as potential small arms.
 

Quantum Bob

Fear and Loathing
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Whatabout making everybody, or at least everybody relevant, into low-level supers? With super genetics or psionics? People who basically outperform most technological solutions that function on the same scale?

Or is that too far out of genre?
 
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