Our square-jawed, steely eyed rocketeers have to be adequately armed. But you have to take the surroundings into account. One shot from an atomic fission blaster might guarantee that Killer Kane never menaces the spaceways again, but you won't live to collect the reward if it also vaporizes a hole in the hull the size of Roger Manning's ego. On the other hand, trying to swing a cutlass in free fall is an exercise in futility. The gallant crew of the Polaris had paralo-ray pistols but it would be nice to have something more believable.

And remember: in free-fall you don't fall. Meaning that in microgravity if you shoot and kill the space pirate, their dead body is not going to fall to the floor. They will just sort of float where they died. In space it sometimes be difficult to tell the dead from the living.


In traditional 1950's pulp scifi nomenclature:

Classic old-timey term for weapon that fires energy instead of bullets. Nowadays this seems retro, quaint, and faintly comedic. Much like the term "space cadet." AKA raygun, ragun, hand-ray, beam gun, blaster, laser gun, laser pistol, phaser, zap gun.
Melts, incinerates, or vaporizes the target with a blast of energy (generally atomic). Often but not always the energy is sent in a cone-shaped explosion instead of a precise focused beam. AKA blast pistol
Lethal weapon which punches long but narrow holes in the target either by deadly threadlike beams or with needle bullets. AKA needle-beamer, needle-ray, needle-gun
Non-lethal weapon that renders the (living) target unconscious. AKA stun gun, stun pistol, coma-ray gun, mercy gun
Non-lethal weapon that immobilizes the target in a sticky net or tangle of ropes.
Non-lethal weapon that paralyze living creatures. Sometimes the target slump bonelessly to the floor. Othertimes they become rigid like statues and topple over. AKA Paralo-ray gun, taser, electrolaser
Non-lethal weapon whose beam causes intense pain in living beings. AKA neuronic whip
Weapon that shoots lightning or electricity. It is more or less an electron particle beam weapon. AKA bolt gun, lightning gun.
     Weapon whose beam handwavingly causes any matter to quietly vanish or turn into a fog of disassociated protons and electrons (without incinerating everything in a ten kilometer radius from the waste heat). Occasionally for a gruesome effect the ray will only disintegrate the more weak materials: leaving behind belt buckles, zippers, and skeletons.
     Some disintegrator punch holes or make jig-saw cuts in the target (MINDBRIDGE and THE ARMAGEDDON INEHRITANCE disintegrators transport matter caught in the beam into hyperspace or another dimension. This can also be done with a weaponized matter transmitter).
     Others "infect" the target with creeping disintegration that eats away until the target is totally gone (see "Captain Terrel commits suicide"). Left unexplained is why the creeping disintegration doesn't infect the entire planet through the target's feet in contact with the ground.
     The Slaver Disintegrator from RINGWORLD suppresses the charge on the electrons in the target object. The material of the object becomes violently positive and explodes into dust due to mutual repulsion.
     AKA dis-ray gun, disintegrator ray
Weapon that damages the target with intense heat. Sort of a high-tech version of a flame thrower. AKA heat-ray gun, flamer
Weapon that handwavingly shoots blobs of starcore-hot plasma. As with so many of these scifi weapons, their main drawback is they will not work.
Sidearm sized directed energy weapon using laser beams. AKA lasgun, hand laser
Weapon whose beam handwavingly cause living entities to suddenly die. The ray acts like a super-duper poison dart. AKA congealer, stokes coagulator
Weapon that shoots bullet-sized missiles instead of inert bullets. The Gyrojet was a real-world rocket gun.
A conventional sidearm that shoots bullets

And for all you young whipper-snappers who are under the misapprehension that science fiction started with the first Star Wars movie: "blaster" dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis' When the Green Star Waned, "disintegrator ray" dates back to 1898 in Garrett Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars, "needler" dates back to 1934 in E.E."Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Valeron, and "stunner" dates back to 1944 in C. M. Kornbluth's Fire-Power. Isaac Asimov invented "force-field blades" in his 1952 novel David Starr, Space Ranger, which was the father of the light-saber.

Of course, the vast majority of the weapons above are total handwavium. The ones that are not are gone into with great detail in the subsequent pages.

The technical real-world term for lasers and particle beam guns is "directed-energy weapon".

Luke Campbell notes that a continuous beam laser can be called a "heat ray", and a pulse beam laser acts much like a "blaster."


      The twin moons brooded over the red deserts of Mars and the mined city of Khua-Loanis. The night wind sighed around the fragile spires and whispered at the fretted lattice windows of the empty temples, and the red dust made it like a city of copper.

     It was close to midnight when the distant rumble of racing hooves reached the city, and soon the riders thundered in under the ancient gateway. Tharn, Warrior Lord of Loanis, leading his pursuers by a scant twenty yards, realized wearily that his lead was shortening, and raked the scaly flanks of his six-legged vorkl with cruel spurs. The faithful beast gave a low cry of despair as it tried to obey and failed.

     In front of Tharn in the big double saddle sat Lehni-tal-Loanis, Royal Lady of Mars, riding the ungainly animal with easy grace, leaning forward along its arching neck to murmur swift words of encouragement into its flattened ears. Then she lay back against Tharn’s mailed chest and turned her lovely face up to his, flushed and vivid with the excitement of the chase, amber eyes aflame with love for her strange hero from beyond time and space.

     “We shall win this race yet, my Tharn," she cried. “Yonder through that archway lies the Temple of the Living Vapor, and once there we can defy all the Hordes of Varnis!” Looking down at the unearthly beauty of her, at the subtle curve of throat and breast and thigh, revealed as the wind tore at her scanty garments, Tharn knew that even if the Swordsmen of Varnis struck him down his strange odyssey would not have been in vain.

     But the girl had judged the distance correctly and Thain brought their snorting vorkl to a sliding, rearing halt at the great doors of the Temple, just as the Swordsmen reached the outer archway and jammed there in a struggling, cursing mass. In seconds they had sorted themselves out and came streaming across the courtyard, but the delay had given Tharn time to dismount and take his stand in one of the great doorways. He knew that if he could hold it for a few moments while Lehni-tal-Loanis got the door open, then the secret of the Living Vapor would be theirs, and with it mastery of all the lands of Loanis.

     The Swordsmen tried first to ride him down, but the doorway was so narrow and deep that Tharn had only to drive his sword-point upward into the first vorkl’s throat and leap backward as the dying beast fell. Its rider was stunned by the fall, and Tharn bounded up onto the dead animal and beheaded the unfortunate Swordsman without compunction. There were ten of his enemies left and they came at him now on foot, but the confining doorway prevented them from attacking more than four abreast, and Tharn’s elevated position upon the huge carcass gave him the advantage he needed. The fire of battle was in his veins now, and he bared his teeth and laughed in their faces, and his reddened sword wove a pattern of cold death which none could pass.

     Lehni-tal-Loanis, running quick cool fingers over the pitted bronze of the door. found the radiation lock and pressed her glowing opalescent thumb-ring into the socket, gave a little sob of relief as she heard hidden tumblers falling. With agonizing slowness the ancient mechanism began to open the door; soon Tharn heard the girls clear voice call above the clashing steel, “Inside, my Tharn, the secret of the Living Vapor is ours!”

     But Tharn, with four of his foes dead now, and seven to go, could not retreat from his position on top of the dead vorkl without grave risk of being cut down, and Lehni-tal-Loanis, quickly realizing this, sprang up beside him, drawing her own slim blade and crying, “Aie, my love! l will be your left arm!”

     Now the cold hand of defeat gripped the hearts of the Swordsmen of Varnis: two, three, four more of them mingled their blood with the red dust of the courtyard as Tharn and his fighting princess swung their merciless blades in perfect unison. It seemed that nothing could prevent them now from winning the mysterious secret of the Living Vapor, but they reckoned without the treachery of one of the remaining Swordsmen. Leaping backward out of the conflict he flung his sword on the ground in disgust. “Aw, the Hell with it!” he grunted, and unclipping a proton gun from his belt he blasted Lehni-tal-Loanis and her Warrior Lord out of existence with a searing energy-beam.

From THE SWORDSMEN OF VARNIS by Clive Jackson (1950)

Which Gun Is Better?

Testosterone-poisoned fanboy's first question is "Which Gun Is More Bad-Ass?" since they have an obsession with who is higher on the totem pole (or scrotum-pole). But like all other questions of this nature, the answer is "Well, that depends..."

The main advantages of laser weapons include: weapon bolt travels at the speed of light, excellent accuracy (the weapon optics can become a reflex aimsight), damage inflicted by the bolt can be dialed up or down, lasers have no recoil, and the "ammunition" (i.e., electricity required per bolt) is much more inexpensive than the equivalent conventional bullet. In addition a laser weapon can be reloaded by attaching the magazine to any electrical outlet, while slug-throwers require supplies of ammo cartridges. Indeed, some scifi laser weapons can be reloaded by leaving the sidearm's solar cells exposed to sunlight.

The main disadvantages of laser weapons include: it still requires huge amounts of power, bullet ammo takes up far less space than power generators, it has far more of a waste heat problem than a slug-thrower firearm, a laser bolt reflecting off a shiny surface can instantly blind innocent bystanders closer than the horizon, and the energy in a given bolt is severely reduced by dust, smoke, clouds, or rain.

The main advantage of particle beam weapons is they have owerful penetration that make lasers look like throwing a handfull of thistledown.

The main drawbacks of particle beam weapons is they are even bigger power hogs than lasers, they are difficult to reduced to pistol size, they have a waste heat problem requiring heat radiators, and Terra's atmosphere will scatter enough of the beam to give the firer a lethal dose of radiation.

The main advantages of slug-throwing guns is the power required is conveniently packaged inside the bullet cartridge, the bullet is relatively unaffected by dust, smoke, clouds, or rain; bullets do not blind everybody in the area like stray laser beams do, and ejecting the bullet case also gets rid of the waste heat of firing.

The main disadvatages of slug-throwing guns is it requires boxes of ammunition to reload while a laser just requires electricity, they have recoil while lasers have none, they cannot have ultra-accurate reflex aimsights like lasers

Comparison of Destructive Power

Joules (J)TNT EquivalentNotes
8.0 × 10010.019 gram.22 short round
13mm Gyrojet round at 2 meters from muzzle (too close, little damage)
1.0 × 10020.024 gramFirecracker (50 mg of black powder)
4.75 × 10020.114 gram9mm Luger Parabellum round
5.2 × 10020.124 gram.38 Special round
5.4 × 10020.129 gram.45 ACP round (Colt M1911)
9.4 × 10020.225 gram.357 Magnum round
9.5 × 10020.227 gram13mm Gyrojet round at 18 meters from muzzle (rocket at full speed and maximum damage)
1.009 × 10030.241 gram.22 Centerfire Hornet round
1.2 × 10030.287 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell light laser pistol (60 pulses of 20 J each, spaced 4 microseconds apart)
1.308 × 10030.313 gramM1 Carbine round
1.4 × 10030.335 gram3.5 g AK-74 bullet fired at 900 m/s
1.56 × 10030.373 gram.44 Magnum round (AutoMag)
1.6 × 10030.382 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol
1.822 × 10030.435 gram5.56mm Remington NATO round
2.045 × 10030.489 gram7.62mm Soviet AK-47 round
2.56 × 10030.612 gram.30-30 Winchester round
3.2 × 10030.765 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol
3.3 × 10030.789 gram9.33 g NATO rifle cartridge fired at 838 m/s
3.469 × 10030.829 gram.303 Lee-Enfield round
3.744 × 10030.895 gram.308 Winchester round
7.62x51mm NATO round
4.184 × 10031 gram= 1 microton
4.8 × 10031.2 gramsLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell assault laser
6.822 × 10031.6 grams.458 Magnum Winchester "Africa" round
9.04 × 10032.2 grams.450 Magnum Dakota round
1.0 × 10042.39 gramsLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser (50 pulses of 200 J each, spaced 10 microseconds apart)
1.0187 × 10042.44 grams.460 Magnum Wetherby "elephant gun" round
1.7149 × 10044.1 grams.50 Browning machine gun round
3.0 × 10047 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell light laser pistol (25 full power bolts)
4.0 × 10049.6 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell medium laser pistol (25 full power bolts)
4.8 × 100411.5 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol (15 full power bolts)
5.4 × 100412.9 grams20 mm autocannon round
1.3 × 100531 gramsAnti-personnel land mine
2.1 × 100550 gramsSingle round of depleted uranium from an A-10 Warthog's GAU-8 rotating cannon (1,800 rpm)
8.4 × 1005200 grams1 stick TNT
9.5 × 1005226 gramsHand grenade
1.0 × 1006239 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell battle laser (100 full power bolts)
1.2 × 1006287 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell assault laser (250 full power bolts)
3.6 × 1006860 grams1 kilowatt hour
4.184 × 10061 kilogram= 1 milliton
6.1 × 10061.4 kilogram120mm Tank Gun KE Ammunition (KEW-A1)
2.1 × 10075 kgAnti-tank mine
3.9 × 10079.3 kgImpact energy of proposed Navy 64 megajoule railgun
1.2 × 100828 kg1 gallon of gasoline
1.42 × 100828 kgVaporize a human body, leaving skeleton (turn all water into steam)
1.8 × 100843 kg1 microgram of antimatter + 1 microgram of matter
5.3 × 1008127 kgBattleship Iowa 16 inch shell with 54 kg high explosive charge
8.5 × 1008203 kg1 second of output from an average commercial nuclear power reactor (850 MW)
1.9 × 1009454 kgTomahawk cruise missile (TLAM-C)
3.0 × 1009717 kgTotally vaporize a human body, including skeleton (break all atomic bonds)

Comparison of Weapon Ranges

1.77 m5' 10"White male height in 50th percentile
2 mAverage range of a confrontation with a handgun
7.6 mMaximum effective range of Taser X-26
9 mUpper range of most confrontations with a handgun
12 mLength of US city bus
18 mGyrojet round has accelerated to maximum velocity and maximum damage
23 mGeneral rule range, beyond which it would make more sense to use a slugthrower long-arm instead of slugthrower handgun
50 mGeneral rule maximum effective range of slugthower handgun
Effective focus range for a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol
100 mRange for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol
109.728 m360'Length of US NFL football field
150 mMaximum effective range of AK-47 grenade launcher
250 mEffective focus range for a Luke Campbell assault laser
270 mMaximum effective combat range of M1 carbine
Length of US BB-62 battleship New Jersey
300 mMaximum average range of infantry engagement
350 mEffective range of AK-47 rifle
Range for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser
365 mRange at which 13mm Gyrojet rounds loses effective velocity
444 mHeight of Empire State building
460 mEffective range of M16A1 rifle
600 mMaximum effective range of M4 carbine
Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (point target)
800 mMaximum effective range of M16 rifle (area target)
2,300 mMaximum effective range of 14.5×114mm sniper cartridge
5,000 m3.1 milesDistance to horizon for an observer with eye level above sea level by 1.70 metres
7,000 m4.4 milesAlleged maximum effective range of DXL-5 sniper rifle (point target)


Futuristic weapons have names drawn from analogies with their nearest real-world equivalent. Which leads to some oddities, since some weapons just do not fit. For instance, many science fiction novels feature "laser rifles" even though such weapons have zero rifling since they shoot coherent light instead of bullets.


A firearm is a portable gun (a barreled ranged weapon) that inflicts damage on targets by launching one or more projectiles driven by rapidly expanding high-pressure gas produced by exothermic combustion of propellant within an ammunition cartridge.

A weapon that shoots bullets, in other words.

So technically a weapon that shoots caseless ammo is not a firearm, though logically it should be.


In international arms control, small arms are man-portable firearms that shoot kinetic projectiles, including handguns (revolvers and pistols) and individual-operated long guns such as rifles and carbines, shotguns, submachine guns, personal defense weapons, and light machine guns.

A single person is strong enough to carry a small arm.


In international arms control, light arms are either are team-operated (e.g., heavy machine guns, portable anti-aircraft guns) or shoot explosive warheads.

Light arms are heavy enough to require two or more people to carry it.

A derringer is generally the smallest usable handgun of a given caliber. They are lightweight and easily concealable. However they commonly have very small magazine, typically only one or two bullets.
A U.S. term for any small, pocket-sized semi-automatic pistol, (or less commonly derringer, or small revolver), suitable for concealed carry in either a front or rear pocket of a pair of trousers, or in an exterior coat pocket.

A handgun is a handheld firearm designed to be operated with only one hand. Although handgun use often includes reinforcing the grip with the other hand for stability, the conceptual facility for one-handed operation is its essential distinguishing characteristic. This characteristic differentiates handguns from long guns such as rifles and shotguns, which usually mandate holding with both hands and braced against the shoulder for proper shooting.

Major handgun subtypes are the revolver and pistol (including single-shot pistols, semi-automatic pistols, and machine pistols); other subtypes include derringers and pepperboxes. Due to the dominant prevalence of pistol-type handguns in modern times, The words "pistol" and "handgun" have overlapping variations in meaning.

A pistol is a type of handgun, especially one with a single chamber integral with the barrel. The most common types of pistol are the single shot, and semi-automatic.
A revolver is a repeating handgun that has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. Revolvers might be regarded as a type of pistol, or as a subset of handguns, distinct from pistols, which in this case are defined as handguns with a single chamber.
A machine pistol is typically a handgun-style machine gun, capable of fully automatic or burst fire, and chambered for pistol sized cartridges.
A long gun is a category of firearms with longer barrels than other classes. In small arms, a long gun is generally designed to be held by both hands and braced against the shoulder, in contrast to a handgun, which can be fired being held with a single hand.
A carbine is a long gun firearm but with a shorter barrel than a rifle. Many carbines are shortened versions of full-length rifles, shooting the same ammunition, while others fire lower-powered ammunition, including types designed for pistols. The smaller size and lighter weight of carbines make them easier to handle. They are typically issued to high-mobility troops such as special-operations soldiers and paratroopers, as well as to mounted, artillery, logistics, or other non-infantry personnel whose roles do not require full-sized rifles.

A personal defense weapon (PDW) is a class of compact magazine-fed, self-loading firearms — essentially a hybrid between a submachine gun and a carbine, retaining the compact size and ammunition capacity of the former while adding the stopping power, accuracy and penetration of the latter (i.e., a submachine gun that fires rifle-caliber cartridges instead of pistol-caliber). Most PDWs fire a small-caliber, high-velocity bottleneck cartridge, resembling a small or shortened intermediate rifle cartridge. This gives the PDW better range, accuracy and armor-penetrating capability than submachine guns, which fire pistol-caliber cartridges.

The name describes the type's original role: as a compact but powerful defensive weapon that can be carried by troops behind the front line such as military engineers, drivers, artillery crews or signallers. These soldiers may be at risk of encountering the enemy, but rarely enough that a long-barrel weapon would be an unnecessary burden during their normal duties. Because of their light weight and controllability, they have also been used by special forces and by heavily-armed police.

A submachine gun (SMG) is a magazine-fed, fully automatic carbine designed to fire pistol cartridges. Today, submachine guns have been largely replaced by assault rifles, which have a greater effective range and are capable of penetrating the helmets and body armor used by modern infantry. However, submachine guns are still used by military special forces and police SWAT teams for close quarters battle (CQB) because they are "a pistol-caliber weapon that's easy to control, and less likely to over-penetrate the target."
The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges."
Battle rifle is a post-World War II term for military service rifles that are fed ammunition via detachable magazines and fire a full-powered rifle cartridge. The term "battle rifle" was created largely out of a need to better differentiate the intermediate-power assault rifles from full-powered automatic rifles as both classes of firearms have a similar appearance and share many of the same features such as detachable magazines, pistol grips, etc.
A rifle is a firearm designed for precision shooting, to be fired held with both hands and braced against the shoulder, and with a barrel that has a helical pattern of grooves ("rifling") cut into the barrel walls. The word "rifle" originally referred to the grooving, and a rifle was called a "rifled gun." The word "rifle" is now used for any long hand-held aimed device activated by a trigger, such as Air rifles and the Personnel halting and stimulation response rifle (PHASR) (meaning the PHASR is a laser weapon, and thus has not rifling, but they call it a rifle anyway).
A designated marksman rifle (DMR) is the weapon used by infantries in the designated marksman (DM) role. Although the "sniper" and the "designated marksman" are distinguished by mission and deployment role, rather than by operational range, the DM's role generally fills the range gap between a regular infantryman and a sniper. DMRs have been developed with this middle ground in mind.
A sniper rifle is a high-precision rifle designed for sniper missions. It serves to fulfil the tactical need for long range surveillance, antipersonnel and anti-material operations, and can be used by both military and law enforcement. The modern sniper rifle is a portable shoulder-fired weapon system with a choice between bolt-action or semi-automatic action, fitted with a telescopic sight for extreme accuracy and chambered for a high-performance military centerfire cartridge.

A side arm or sidearm is a weapon, usually a handgun but sometimes a sword, dagger, knife, bayonet or other mêlée weapon, which is worn on the body in a holster or sheath (in the case of a sword, dagger, knife, or bayonet) to permit immediate access and use. A sidearm is typically required equipment for military officers and is usually carried by law enforcement personnel. Usually, uniformed personnel of these services wear their weapons openly, while plainclothes personnel have their sidearms concealed under their clothes. A sidearm may be carried alone, or as a back-up to a primary weapon such as a rifle, carbine, or submachine gun.

Historically in western armies, and in many contemporary armies, the issue of a sidearm in the form of a service pistol is a clear sign of authority and is the mark of a commissioned officer or senior NCO. In the protocol of courtesy, the surrender of a commander's sidearm is the final act in the general surrender of a unit. If no ill will is meant, and a strict interpretation of military courtesy is applied, a surrendering commander may be allowed to keep his sidearm in order to exercise his right of command over his men.

A service pistol is any handgun issued to military personnel or law enforcement officers. Typically service pistols are revolvers or semi-automatic pistols issued to officers, non-commissioned officers, and rear-echelon support personnel for self defense, though service pistols may also be issued to special forces as a backup for their primary weapons. Pistols are not typically issued to front-line infantry.
The service rifle (also known as standard-issue rifle) of a given army or armed force is that which it issues as standard to its soldiers. In modern forces, this is typically a highly versatile and rugged assault rifle, battle rifle or carbine suitable for use in nearly all theatres and environments.

Shooting a Hole in the Hull

For the vast majority of space travelers, firearms and spacecraft habitat modules go together about as well as "inflatable ocean life-raft" and "throwing darts at a dart board". Some habitat modules have hulls about as thick as aluminum foil, and the hull is all that protects the travelers from a 90 second hideous death by traumatic abaryia. Since firearms are designed to efficiently drill holes in things, you can see the problem.

Cue the tired old tagline "In Space Nobody Can Hear You Scream."

In many SF novels, the captains of space passenger liners and tramp freighters will require all weapons capable of breaching the ship's hull to be surrendered and locked away for the duration of the voyage. This is to prevent some fumble-fingered gunslinger from accidentally blowing a hole in the hull and killing everyone in the compartment. Upon planetfall the weapons will be returned to their owners.

Any military or quasi-military ship will have all hull piercing weapons secured in the arms locker, with the key held by the captain or other authorized officers.

In the role-playing game Traveller, ships are sometimes boarded by space pirates. The pirates must be fought off, but the hull integrity must be preserved. For those reasons there are cutlasses racked near each airlock, since those will perforate a pirate but not the hull. A cutlass is used instead of a sword because it is shorter and the spacecraft corridor will probably be narrow (for the same reason a submachine gun will be prefereable to a long rifle). Swordplay on a spaceship is somewhat silly in the real world, but it does add a dramatic touch to a game, or a space opera for that matter.

In reality a better solution to repelling hostile boarders is a firearm with special ammunition. In other words ammo that will perforate a pirate but not the hull. Examples include frangible rounds, flechettes, shotgun shells, riot guns and the Quiet Special Purpose Revolver. In the real world, the shotguns are often recommended for personal defence if living in apartment buildings. A shotgun blast will severely wound a burglar, but be unlikely to penetrate the apartment walls and accidentally wound your neighbor.

But hull holes might not be a primary concern, it is going to take on the order of 15 minutes before air loss through a bullet hole causes people to suffocate..

Mike Williams notes that it isn't just the hull that is vulnerable to stray shots. There is plenty of equipment you don't want to damage or it will spray corrosive chemicals / shut down the oxygen / make the atomic reactor go critical / do something else equally nasty. Space Patrol cadets are warned not to give asteroid pirates any ideas (e.g., don't take cover next to a large fluorescent orange pipe with the label "DANGER: LIQUID SODIUM" stenciled right next to the skull and crossbones)

A commonly overlooked drawback to slugthrower sidearms in a spacecraft combat location is the need for earplugs. Actually laser sidearms will have a need for anti-blindness goggles, so I guess they are about even.

The safest policy (for the ship's hull at least) is to forbid firearms on board. But this isn't really an option. As Dr. John Schilling said:

Part of the Space Patrol's mission will involve checking out suspicious, rather than overtly hostile, activity, as with the present Coast Guard. If you know that Space Transport THX-1138 has been seized by Space Pirates (tm) who slaughtered the entire crew, you can lase it from a thousand kilometers away. If you're only guessing on the basis of some strange comm traffic, you've got to put a boarding party on the ship. If they are unarmed, you are only sending the pirates hostages.

From Dr. John Schilling

      Captain Ramius: [during a shootout in the submarine missile room] Hey, Ryan, be careful what you shoot at. Some things in here don't react too well to bullets.
     Jack Ryan: [mutters] Yeah, like me. I don't react too well to bullets.
     [Moves closer to enemy, who fires several shots at him]
     Jack Ryan: I have to be careful what I shoot at?


(ed note: Most of this is applicable to slugthrower weapons not energy weapons, for reason explained in the article)

Ever since humans left Africa, we began the process of exploring and colonizing this world.  We altered the environments that we encountered to suit the needs and requirements of our species and in some ways, the altered environment shaped us as well.  When high-altitude air travel become a reality, the developers of those planes bottled surface-like atmosphere to encompass the plane's crew and passengers.

The same will be true with the deep spacecraft and space habitats of our future; they will also need a pressurized breathable air bubble in the deadly vast of nothingness.In such delicate environment it might be wise not to conduct any violent acts that might endanger the integrity of the bubble walls or taint the air with gunfire shootouts. But given that the dwellers of those bubbles are essentially the same apes who march out of Africa that ain't likely to happen.

In this installment of the continuing Armory Series, we will be looking at Firearms and cartridges designed for such pressurized environments: the Pressurized Environments Firearms (PEF)


Due to the fragment and multidisciplinary nature of the topic, the making of this article become a joint multi-national project involved researching and questing numerous individuals worldwide. From retired Sky Marshals to James Bond experts, all were drafted for the cause. With much gratitude, these are the peoples who made this article possible:

  • Retried Sky marshals- Stephen Rustad & Mordechai Rachamim.
  • Cartridge manufacturers: Jim Maltenieks president of American Ballistics (ABS)
  • Peter Pi, CEO of CorBon, 
  •  Cameron Hopkins, CEO of Super Vel
  • Cartridge collectors- Pete deCoux & Mel Carpenter
  • Weapon experts- Hrachya Hayrapet & Maxim Popenker
  • Mel Zaid- founder and former CEO of Technik Inc.
  • David Louis Buehn, CEO of Rough & Ready Inc.
  • John Edward Shields kin.
  • Jeff Wybo of James Bond Canada.
  • Grant Hutchison of Oikofuge for his Coriolis Effect trajectories' diagrams.  

The Misconceptions of Firing inside a Pressurized Airliner or Spaceship

The common conception of pressurized vessel hull breaching has been polluted by Hollywood “science” for decades resulting in numerous misconceptions regarding the vulnerability of aircraft or spaceship to gunfire onboard along with over-dramatized the outcomes of such bullets' holes.

The Integrity of the Hull Materials

First, it might be wise to remember that airliner or spaceship walls aren't much more than thin tinfoil. Terrifying as it maybe, all it takes is a few millimeters thick aluminum to be sufficient to hold sea level pressure gauge against outer-space hard vacuum or near vacuum of high altitude. But holding atmosphere in is only one of the properties aircraft or spaceship skins (or hulls) have. Both air or space vessels operate in an environment with extreme temperatures which need to be thermally isolated to maintain cozy room temperatures inside. Aircrafts hulls are also used to moderate the external noise while spaceships hulls have to shields the inhabitants against deadly radiation, both natural and from the ship nuclear engine (if exist).All of that means relatively thick external walls of our spaceship or space station.  The wall's lining are likely serve as energy absorber in case a bullet breach the inner wall, similar to a Kevlar-like armor material. Not only may such filling stop a bullet before it pierces the outer shell, if the bullet manages to drill its way all through the lining material, then the lining usually will compresses between the inner and outer walls, due to its tendency to expand and thus, sealing the hole quite effectively.

The Minute long Hurricanes

One common trope of poplar media and Sci-Fi is that a breach in the hull will produce a mighty airflow that lifts people like tree leaves from whereabouts they were and throw them through the hole into the void. Such hurricane -like flow, as usually depicted, are long enough to have dramatic scenes where the protagonist/s have ample time to grab some static lifebuoy or each other and if the breach is an airlock door, enough time to climb against the air stream to push on the “close-the-airlock-now” button.

However, the reality is very different…sorry, Hollywood. Any hole in the hull big enough to create an initial flow with initial velocity similar to a hurricane ought to be major explosive decompression. Given this, the room where the breach accrues, the unlucky inhabitants will be killed from violent acceleration before been thrown to space. Any hole big enough to create such airflow will decompressed the airplane or spaceship very quickly, as the pressure drops so does the airflow so a minutes-long howling stream is partially impossible.

Suction through a Bullet Hole

Inspired by Mr. Bond’s remark about being sucked into outer space by or thrown through a bullet hole, it been a common misconception that the pressure gauge between the pressurized cabin to the near vacuum outside has enough force to squeeze human body out of this small hole. That misconception is manifested in the visual media with the following generic steps: an individual (usually the antagonist) is picked by the none-realistic flow and throw against the wall, plugging the hole, after a short moment of silence the unfortunate victim start to compressed and vented out through the small hole like a human toothpaste tube until the whole body drained out and the outer shell of the victim is blown out too. That is complete rubbish. The maximum pressure difference between the cabin and outdoor is 1 Atmosphere (ATM) which equal to 1 Kg force to each 1 square centimeter of hole or 14.7 pound force to each 1 square Inch of hole. Such low force can't possibly break the human body into a paste; human skin is fairly durable and elastic. There were many examples both planned experiments and accidents where humans and animals were subjected to full or partial vacuum exposure and they confirm that the skin can stretch and hold body interior without bursting.

Several experiments done in the 1960's on dogs shown that even after the “guinea pigs” were subjected to rapid decompression to near vacuum conditions, those dogs die off quickly and their body were swell to approximately double their normal size without any damage to the skin. (Poor dogs!).  It is safe to say that any bullet holes won't be sufficient enough to force to tear down human skin if placed to seal the hole. Unlike the American tale about the little Dutch boy who save his hometown of Harlem by plugging a leaking dike with his little finger, in the case of leaking spaceship that boy could actually close the hole using his bare finger without any risk to the boy or the finger! Such finger partially exposed the 3 Kelvin coldness of space will be rapid cooled down by thermal radiation. My back-of-the-envelop calculations show that the heat loss via radiation to the 3K of space is equal to -60°c / -76°f heat loss in still air so frostbites are due, hence - more serious measures are needed to fix the leak after the initial plugging.

Unrealistic Short time to Full Decompression

As with the hurricane force flows and the bone crashing suction, the time left to the inhabitants of a leaked craft is overly underestimate by popular media. Generally, symptoms of hypoxia will appear when the cabin pressure dropped to quarter of atmosphere.  So, conservative calculations will mark that threshold as the minimum pressure allowed for estimating the time left for crew and passengers to take action to save their lives. It also important to understand that such time calculations are totally irrelevant to an airplane, only for a spaceship. Airplane isn't operate in a total vacuum and its life support system isn't close system. Airplanes are venting out air regularly through many small holes and cracks in the fuselage and the indoor pressure is controlled by outflow pressure valves. Fresh outside air is routinely compressed, cooled and filtered and introduce to the pressurized cabin onboard an aircraft. If a bullet hole or other holes punctures the hull, the plane's pressure control system simply closes one or more of the outflow pressure valves to compensate the added leak source to the already leaking cabin. Unless some major hole was formed, regular pressure control system can handle pretty much any gun spree aftermath.

Same isn’t true for spaceships; due to spacecraft carry their own air onboard in a form of either liquefied or high-pressure gas tanks (usually oxygen and nitrogen). As the case with airplanes, spaceship can't be totally 100% leak-proof. Some very slow leakage will be always presence and it the duty of the life support system to monitor and supplement those losses from those stored tanks. Now you might ask yourself what if the rate of those life support systems fill up the loses be enough to counter the air leakage cause due the some bullet hole, does the crew or passengers have ample time to patch the hole before run out of air?

Well, consider the worst case scenario that the life support system been damaged in the cross fire or deliberately, the time to fix the leakage is confined to the air reservoir in the cabin. A very simply equation of cabin decompressing assume a sonic flow (Mach 1) at the hole opening and isotherm (constant air temperature) will results for room temperature 21% oxygen-79% nitrogen mix and factor of four in air pressure drop the following solution: t(sec)=2*V(m^3)/A(M^2) Where t is the time that will takes to air pressure to drop to a quarter of initial pressure, V(m^3) the cabin volume and A(m^2) hole or holes combine cross area. (more detail here)

Example:  the International Space Station (ISS) Pressurized volume is 931.5 m^3, if one of the Russian cosmonauts had been using their Makarov PM pistols that was carried up until 2008 in their Soyuz spacecraft to disable the life support system and then put a hole in the ISS wall, how much time the other crewmember have to plug the hole? A Makarov PM is chamber to 9x18mm Makarov round will leave 9mm circular hole of 0.000063585m^2. Craning the number in the equation to find it will take 29,299,363 seconds or 339 days. A far cry from an urgent problem as depicted in popular media.

Why Catastrophic Result of Airliner Indoor Shootout isn't a Catastrophe

Above are listed several reasons why gunfire onboard airplane or a spaceship won't result in catastrophic loss of the ship & crew and any passengers. But what if such a loss in on of itself isn't the worst possible outcome?

In many of the cases of commercial airlines hijacking, the hijackers' goal was to divert the plane from its course towards a landing site sympathetic to their cause from where the hijackers could blackmail the government/s for the release and wellbeing of the passengers. A cold heart and cool headed decision could be made in advance by the government in charge for the safety of its people that a loss of an airplane along with its passengers is slightly better result of a hijacking attempt than a nation brought to its knees and comply with the hijackers' demands.

A nation allowed or mandate an armed security guard (like the US Federal Air Marshals) onboard airliners or spaceliners chose to take such risk with the hope that their decision will act as a deterrent to future attempts as the would be future hijackers factor in the fact that their hostages lives won't shields them.

The stakes were raised even higher after the September 11th attacks when it became obvious that religious zealot hijacker motive might be substantially different than just release of his comrades from Asian Dawn Movement, New Provo Front, or the Liberte de Quebec of out of prison, more like convert the plane into a gigantic Kamikaze aim at heavily populated buildings. In such scenarios, it isn't the lives of the passengers' weight against national security, it is the lives of both the passengers and thousands of civilians on the ground that at stakes if the hijack attempt won't stop ASAP. After the September 11th terrorist attacks the dilemmas of onboard armed personal have been almost disappeared as the cost of failure at stopping a hijack outweigh the sum lives of crew and passengers.

Challenges and Options designing Pressurized Environments Firearms

Not Shooting

It sounds odd to consider the option of not shooting as something weapon designers should factor in when sketching a new gun...but that isn't a wrong move at all. The purpose of a weapon, any weapon, isn't to kill per se but to impose the wielder will upon other. If that purpose was served without firing or even withdraw the gun from the holster then the gun severed its owner well. Thus, bestowing nearly all firearms the title of a “psychological weapon”. Douglas Adams, in his novel Restaurant at the End of the Universe, introduce such a gun, the "Kill-O-Zap" carried by Golgafrinchan ship's first officer. The features and appearance of the gun were explained: 'The designer was clearly not instructed to beat about the bush. “Make it evil,” they’ve been told. “Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sorts of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, this is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.”'.When consider scenarios where armed agents of the state are facing unarmed civilians and those arms aren't meant to be concealed it pay off to have those guns of intimidating and menacing as possible.

Not Missing the Target

Again, this is a no brainer. No one designs a gun to miss, but one should tune the design of the gun to be more suitable for fewer accurate shots rather than burst mode. In the densely packed spaces of airplane or spaceship, there is a heightened he danger of hitting bystanders. It is more desirable to have a gun with a small ammo capacity forcing the wielder to count any shot as it was the last. These questions were bedrock during the formation and training of the premier US Army Counter-terrorist unit, DELTA Force. One of the original operators, Eric L. Haney writes about the challenges of CT operations onboard aircraft in his excellent 2002 book Inside DELTA Force. He discussed that airplanes are “crammed with people” and even the founder of DELTA, Colonel Beckwith, said that terrorist-held airplane would be their toughest tactical environment.

The Unit would have to adapt (or train like you fight) to the special conditions of storming airliners packed with hostages and a few hijackers. The then handgun of DELTA back in the late 1970’s was an improved accuracy Colt M1911 .45 ACP and these original operators were trained to fire one round at a time during such engagements to maximize actually hitting the target not missing the target and creating a worst situation. Another option for today’s high-speed, high-tech door kickers is to mount fancy optics like red-dot and holo sights alike to increase hit probability of each shot.

Not Over-Penetrate the Target

Even after a precious shot hit the target, there is the danger of over-penetration.  In this scenario, the projectile could exit the other side of the tango and further travel, sometime in different direction, and endangering the bystanders and the vehicle itself. A common solution is to use ammunition that deform, tumble or break inside of the target body and dissipate its kinetic energy completely without emerging out. Ammunition types such as hollow point, soft-nose, fragment etc. exist and use or used by various air and sky marshal programs and armed pilots worldwide. Citing again Eric L. Haney’s Inside DELTA Force book and Colonel Beckwith's own book on the CT unit he founded, the original operators of DELTA selected use of the .45 ACP round over 9mm due to lower velocity and less risk over-penetration back during the late 1970’s spin-up of the Unit.

However, very shortly, DELTA would adapt the 9x19mm H&K MP5 SMG for general CQC environments (which included airplanes) very much like the vast majority of Special Operations CT units at the time. While online firearm forums and videos are filled with people discussing the use of certain calibers for airplane engages, 9mm vs. .45 vs. 5.7mm vs. .357 SIG, we have to remember that the US Federal Air Marshals use SIG Sauer P229 in .357 SIG (the first gun I ever bought! -William) and that most Counter-Terrorism units back in the day of the apex of airliner hijackings used the rock-solid MP5 SMG platform for storming planes. Take that for what you will.

No Penetration of the Hull

In case the shooter missed the target, it is important that the bullet will not penetrate the airplane or spaceship inner and outer walls. This will require calibrating of the ammunition's penetration performances to be lesser than normal ammunition loads, so that the walls resistance capability will ensure that any stray shots won't go through and through. As stated above, this deteriorates rapidly into a caliber debate online, but in the realm sci-fi there is often customized designed weaponry or settings for VBSS style boarding operations.

No Ricochet

Once a bullet leaves the gun, you cannot take it back and this regret could be made the worst that could be managed by yet another desirable feature needed in PEF ammunition: that the bullet won't ricochet after hitting the wall and bounce back to endangering any innocent bystanders or the endanger the structure of the artificial environment. Many of the bullets developed with low over-penetrate in mind will likely be engineered to break inside the target are also likely to break when hit the hard surface of the wall and not ricochet.

Bullet Disintegration and Shattering

In any future scenarios of shootouts in various freefall environments such as the familiar spaceship or even your local space station, it would be very preferable that the bullets won't break or shatter into free-floating tiny fragments that might be inhaled by the crew or clogged inside some vital piece of futuristic machinery like life support or the warp core.  After battle cleanup procedures in these types of environments could be a real pain in rear if any missed gun resulted in hail of debris.

Not to be Misused

In many of the plausible scenarios where Pressurized Environments Firearms (PEF) are or will be present and used, the PEF will be the only gun on the scene.  In addition, the PEF's wielder, likely a member of the “authorities”, will face an unarmored opponent with inferior weapon among scores of non-involves. As such, various methods of preventing the PEF misuse by the opponent or bystanders might apply to the weapon system. The easiest will be mechanically constrained the gun to the user, tether it to the user belt or issue holsters design to prevent the gun to be surprisingly drawn by other than its user (like a current pistol lanyard). Other options include personalized guns via technology, AKA: Smart Guns, which enable the use of anyone but the gun authorized user/s.

This technology has been seen in Star Trek and in the Bond universe with the Walter PPK from Skyfall. Another thing to consideration, when the PEF is concealed and the user travel in plain-clothes, as is the case with air/sky marshals. The passengers and crew will automatically assume and identify the current wielder of the gun as the marshal and any other individual on board that try to wrestle and fight the wielder as the bad guy. The last thing a marshal needs while fight one terrorist is to repel several John Wayne wannabies. If the gun is tethered to the marshal or the smart gun alarm screams "unauthorized user" the passengers will be less incline to regards the man with the gun as the de-facto marshal.

Hearing Protection

Firing inside the cumbersome corridors and bunkheads of spaceship, the gunshot blasts will echo back from the metal walls around you. Without ear protection, the PEF user and any non-involves could suffer permanent/temporary hearing loss. Even a temporarily hear loss in a tactical situation might be fatal in the middle of combat as it could reduce the user situational awareness. Wearing ear protection is optional, but it too might reduce the user's situation awareness and not a real option if the plain-clothes user carries the PEF as concealed gun. To reduce the gun blast decibel level, all the technologies currently used here on Earth could be used such as silencers, which are a good option as well as more exotic such as totally enclose piston cartridges and captive bolt guns. For more in-depth analysis on the topic of silence firearms check my past FWS Armory article. (more details here)

Free-fall and Low-Gravity Scenarios

The lack of gravity or even a low-gravity environment would influence many aspects of gunfights inside the pressurized cabins. It is gravity that mount foots to the floor, braced against the gun's recoil and its gravity that grab and pull the hot spent brass down.

Recoil Management

Recoil is the most over-appreciated problem people might associate with firing a gun in freefall. The truth is that gun recoil, in terms of momentum, is pretty minuscule compare the combine mass of shooter and the gun. It is easy to calculate the backward velocity the shooter acquire by multiplying the bullet mass with its muzzle velocity dividing by the sum mass of the shooter, gun and yet unused ammo. For example: a 38 Special has a mass of 9.5gr and muzzle velocity of 900m/s, divide the multiply by 80Kg of fully armed security guard will results in one guard slowly drifting 0.1m/s backward when fired. (more details here)

All of this, of course, is purely theoretical scenario where someone in zero G caught in midair when bullets are flying and tries to return fire. There is no tactical advantage for such indoor space fighting leap of faith maneuver, giving the confine space those spaceships and station are likely to have the smart move is try to take cover by held one of the many handles the walls are covered with one hand and brace yourself to the wall similar to a military prone position while using the other hand to shot at your enemy. Such position the shooter present a much smaller target to hit while the anchoring keep him in place and not drifting away from the recoil. In such scenarios, a handgun will preferable compare to long gun as it could be used one handed. An revolver is better than a traditional autoloader handgun since it could be easily used by either hand without spent cases ejected in the shooter face and with the ability to clear dud round by pulling the trigger again while autoloader will required both hands.

Spent Casings

The problem of hot brass spewed at one own face or your comrade face isn't anew, it is one of many factors tested in any new gun trials especially back in the days of packed soldiers line and volley fire. One consideration the developers and users of territorial gun never had to trouble about is their spent cases floating all over the place! Such luxury isn't the case with hot brass in weightlessness, a case will be ejected from the ejection port and keep on going till it hit something or someone where it bounce and continue floating randomly across the room as Newton said when he laid down the law.  Such cases are more than just a nuisance to be cleaned up after the gunfight, the metallic cases could be wandering and be caught into and inside some important machinery or short circuit some electronic.

Depending on how hardened the space habitat support technology it might be wise to contains the cases from leaving the gun. Brass catcher came to mind as an ad hoc solution till you realize that the catcher relied on Earth gravity to settle the cases in the catcher bag, I leave it to the reader ingenuity to think of some one direction value that allows the cases to be ejected to the bag but prevent the floating cases to return back toward the ejection port. Caseless ammo could pull the trick if such technology could ever be reliably and cheap back on Earth which at the moment doesn't seem to be the case (pun intended of course).

The answer may lie in rather ancient tech – the wheel gun. Empty cases and dud rounds aren't ejected after each shot but discharged at reload and it possible to configure revolvers to have quick removable and replaceable cylinder that could be swapped the empty with fresh one. The cylinder could be reusable with chambers for regular cartridges or disposable cylinder with factory preloaded bullets, charges and primers. Either way an empty cylinder is easy to grab and return to the vest pouch or find during the aftermath clean-up when six or more empty cases aren't.

Bullets' Fragments

As stated in the “Not to Disintegrate” segment above, it be wise NOT to use any ammunition that tends to break and shatter into fragments if the round misses its intended target. When consider both the requirement of not over-penetrating and the need for the projectile not to fragment into pieces most of the frangible ammo is off the table with the exception of bean bags rounds that in essence a small load of buckshot enclosed in a small flexible material.

Thermal Convection

One of main mechanism of heat removal and cooling is the natural convection. A warm body in a cooler surrounding fluid will warm the closer layer of the fluid via thermal conduction.  The slightly warmer layer will be less dense than the rest of the ambient fluid and thus lighter and by bouncy will rise upward taking with it the body energy and exposing the body to new cooled fluid to continue the process once more.

Such phenomena is greatly depended upon gravity, the weaker the gravity the less heat is removed by convection and at freefall heat can removed from object only by slow conduction and thermal radiation. The absence of gravity is a factor in everyday life aboard the ISS, from compatible ambient temperature for the inhabitants to force convection fans for electronic racks. It will also be a consideration when choosing what guns to use in such environments. Whenever gun is fired it will heat very fast and very hot and it will takes a considerable longer to cool down.

Naturally Null-G gun users will gravitate toward low rate of fire and small ammo capacity guns as any repeatable fire will dangerously heat up the gun. Any expose metal parts will be covered with heat shielding and barrel shroud. This means that your portable mini-gun or reaper gun is ruled out. The danger of cartridge cook-off in the firing chamber will be worry at any case of close bolt firearm. This could eliminate the use of caseless weaponry due the much higher danger off thermal cook-off as H&K found during the development of the G11. The natural candidate again for such constrains is, once again, the revolver. The cartridges are kept in the cylinder and not waiting in some firing chamber to cook, it has low ammo capacity and low ROF, but likely more than enough to end the fight before the gun's parts start melting and it much more resilient to high temperatures and rapid heating than its autoloaders counterparts.

Coriolis Effect

Currently there are only two methods of generating artificial gravity. The first one is to constantly accelerate your spaceship toward your destination about half of the way, then flip turn the ship 180 degrees and constantly decelerate the craft to a halt at the destination. Whatever acceleration the ship performs is the amount of artificial gravity the inhabitants will experience onboard. Such vessels are call Torchships and their drive is calls Torch drive. Sadly, while the technologies that allows a ship drive to produce constant acceleration close to Terran 1g level are within known science they are still appear to be off the table for a long way to come. Of course, it couldn't applied to space stations or terrestrial colonies on the surface of low gravity bodies, like an asteroid mining facility.

A simpler approach is to spin a segment or all of the spaceship or space station around an axis at a constant spinning rate to make, via centrifugal force, an artificial gravity on the inner walls of the rotating canister where the “up” direction is toward the axis and the “down” is away from. The magnitude of the gravity is determined by two factors: the spin rate, which is uniform everywhere in the spinning segment of the ship or station and the distance one is from the axis. Therefor to produce uniform value of gravity that is identical to the inhabitants and perpendicular to the floor, a spin gravity dictate the habitat to shape along circular geometry: ring, cylinder and torus.

Mostly, the spin gravity is identical to the real one. Sure, you have variation in the gravity if change your distance from the axis when you climb a ladder and such but since the living space is arranged circularly that usually unnoticed. Another thing that difference from real gravity is the influence of the Coriolis Effect. Whenever a body moves in the rotating set of reference perpendicular to the spinning axis it will experience strange drift aside perpendicular to its velocity. The magnitude of the force for a given spin rate will be determined only by the body velocity in the rotation plane which mean that a stationary body won't feel it.

The direction of the force will always be perpendicular to velocity and pointing to the opposite side of the rotation direction. In plain terms, any object traveling in the rotation plane: up(toward the axis), down(from the axis), Westward(spinward) or Eastward (counterspinward) will seem to be caught in unfelt tornado winds, one that its axis parallel to the ship or station rotation axis but reversed in direction. For upward movement the body will drift spinward, for downward movement a drift counterspinward, for spinward it be downward and for counterspinward it be upward.

Moving objects parallel to the spin axis will drift too, the motion parallel on be effect but the object still fall down to the floor cause by the artificial gravity and will drift counterspinward like an object dropped down. Normally here on Earth we neglect Earth rotation and the influence of Coriolis Effect when it comes to firearms' ballistics since Earth complete a revolution every 23 hours, 56 minutes & 4 seconds. When launching projectiles inside a rotating can which revolve several time a minute such force couldn't be written off. The key factor determine the bullet curved trajectory is the ratio between its velocity relative to the surrounding (muzzle velocity initially) to the shooter velocity relative to observer outside of the spinning set of reference. Since the shooter is traveling with the rest of spinning ship or station his speed is the rim velocity. If the shooter is facing toward the spin direction, spinward, the bullet will suffer greater bullet drop than the felt gravity should inflict. When the shooter turn back and fire counterspinward the bullet will gain a 'lift' thank to Coriolis, for a velocity ratio of 1 the bullet will fly in a close circle around the rotation axis with constant distance from the floor till eventually air drag will rob the bullet's energy and it slowly decent to the floor. Shooting upward toward that ladder climber the shooter ought to aim slightly counterspinward or keep missing as the bullets drift spinward. In contrast, the climber need to aim spinward to hit the shooter at the bottom of the ladder. Such drift could create some bizarre circumstances:

If the station designers bless it with circular corridors and you have a tango up spin barricade you could shot counterspinward and your bullets will complete a full round and bite the enemy in the rear! If an enemy is placed on a platform directly overhead a shooter at ground level can aim spinward to land bullets on his head, the enemy can also hit you by fire spinward too. Such opportunistically trajectories greatly depends upon that velocity ratio and clear field of view and firing that doesn't really exist in small space stations and always never in spaceships. For the rim velocity to be in the magnitude if typical gun bullets, which are in the hundreds of meters per second the space station should be in the range of couple hundreds meter in radius, for a O'Neill Cylinder 8km in diameter rotating once every two minutes the rim velocity is 200 m/s, comparable to slow sub sonic-pistol ammo, if the bullet is very aerodynamic and fired counter spinward it will cruse a significant path above the ground before falling. Every shot against a tram running parallel and close to the axis or shot down one slowly falling Captain John Sheridan will have to account this drift too.

If the ladder is inside narrow tube as one inside the station's spokes the drift will drive the two shooters' bullets hitting the tube walls instead each other.

Pure Oxygen Atmosphere

Here on good ole Terra, we breathe an atmosphere compose of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and less than 1% of additional gasses in one atmosphere pressure or 1 Atm. Such a breathing mix might be apply to future space station, planetary basses and spaceships as it currently used in the ISS previously used onboard the American Space Shuttles and all of the Soviet/ Russian spacecrafts and space stations. But, other atmospheric mixes had been used by NASA: all of the spacecrats prior to the Space Shuttle were pressurized with 0.2 Atm pure Oxygen and the Skylab station used 0.3 Atm with 25% Nitrogen and 75% Oxygen.

An Oxygen-rich low pressure reduce the mass of the air carried to orbit and the reduce pressure allows reducing the craft structural integrity, further lowering its mass.

A lower pressure also minimize the pressure leakage and reduce the mass losses overtime.

Since current soft spacesuits use pure oxygen, any EVA will require the astronaut leaving a Nitrogen-Oxygen breathe mix to preform long pre-breathing to purge the Nitrogen from his/her blood or risk suffering the decompressing sickness (also known as diver sickness or the 'bends'). Astronauts aboard ISS or the Shuttle need more than an hour of pre-breathing. When using pure Oxygen inside the habitat that all pesky pre-breathing is unnecessary.

Another advantage, Nitrogen is very rare outside of planet Earth, only Saturn's moon of Titan is known to have large quantities of it. Oxygen, on the other hand, is abundant everywhere, Lunar regolith is half by mass Oxygen and easy to extract by baking the regolith to high temperatures. Shipments of Oxygen from Lunar surface or asteroids to replenish ships' and stations' accumulated slow air losses or provide ever-grow space civilization is much easier than pull Nitrogen from Earth gravity well or hauling it from distant Titan. With those great advantages come serious disadvantages, first among them is the flammability issues of even barely flammable material socket inside such a pure Oxygen bath.

The fanatic over exaggerate fear of pure Oxygen atmosphere is rooted in the horrible 1968 Apollo 1 accident where while ground testing a fire broke in the pure Oxygen environment of the capsule burning the three astronauts alive. It is a common misconception that NASA switch to Nitrogen-Oxygen mix as a result of the accident, in fact the Apollo Program continued to use pure Oxygen air till the last mission, Apollo 17 and use mix on the ground, switching to pure oxygen on the rocket ascend to orbit.

Another misconception is that the Apollo 1 inferno is solely the fault of the pure oxygen atmosphere, the reason the fire break out and burned the astronauts alive is caused by the ground testing conditions. The lunar command module was over-pressurized to 1.2Atm in order to check the module tolerance to 0.2Atm pressure gauge it will endure in space. The combination of 1.2Atm of pure oxygen and the full gravity of Earth that induce convection currents feed the flames with oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide created the perfect storm that consume the module and the astronauts. A low pressure pure Oxygen is still dangerously flammable though, the air contains as much Oxygen molecules as Earth atmosphere but without the damping effect of the inert Nitrogen any flame ignited have the potential to evolve to major fire. A future spacefaring civilization might chose to switch back to pure Oxygen environment cause of all those listed advantages and bite the bullet of greater flammability. Speaking of bullets; the nature of the atmosphere will shape the requirements and specification the firearms will design to operate in such conditions.

In such an atmosphere, the danger of muzzle flash, the unburned gunpowder residues, will force the installation of silencer mount to any gun. Hot brass pose anther ignition source and brass catcher have to be attach to any autoloader or use of revolvers instead. The lower air pressure will reduce the natural convection heat transfer, the guns will heat up very fast and will takes longer time to cool down. Any expose metal part should be cover in the equivalent of full body barrel shroud that prevents any contact between the hot metal to any flammable material if the gun dropped or fall down. Two unexpected perks of the lower pressure; firstly sound transfer reduced by the lower air density and with combine with the obligatory silencers eliminate the need of hearing protection. Second; the lower air density, a fifth of Earth sea level, meant that the air drag is also approximately fifth of what the bullet face in normal Earth air. Most if not all of the special purpose cartridges designed for reduced hull penetration and reduce over-penetration have terrible aerodynamic properties. A lower pressure cabin will allows such types of ammo lower velocity drop and larger ranges beyond their Earth bound specification.

Gunpowder contamination of human and life support

The living in closed life support environment mean that the inhale one takes was previously been someone else exhale (better brush those teeth! In such circumstances, polluting the air with gunpowder burning byproducts or unburned gunpowder residue could endanger the habitat's dwellers or the air recycling systems. The most dangerous of gunfire products is carbon monoxide (CO), a small amount of the gas is enough to poisoning human by bounding with blood hemoglobin. Several incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning in closed indoor firing ranges have reported and at least one report of battle field carbon monoxide poisoning is known during the Korean War when the accumulate CO produced by American bomb shells on North Korean bunker results in death from CO poisoning.

There is little to no available information about CO effect on the common air replenish systems used for space applications. It is likely that expendable chemical carbon scrubbers could scrub carbon monoxide as effective as they remove carbon dioxide. More advance systems like Sabatier reactor might be sensitive to CO and other gunfire products and may require to flash out the air to space after the gun firing was over as standard protocol onboard modern spacecrafts and stations when dealing with fire scene clean up. Minimize the air contamination will be prime necessity when designing the firearms, the best solution will be the totally enclose piston cartridges as any gunpowder product will be bottled inside of the spent case. Those spent cases will be later remove from the scene for safe disposal. In other cases, a suppressed revolver with special silencer shape filter mount on the muzzle will filter out the dangerous components from the muzzle flash while allows the bullet to exit at the other end. Those filters, like the spent totally enclose cartridges, will be disposed of after the battle.

The Colt Shields Revolver

From 1968 to 1972, there were no less than 130 American airliners were hijacked and routed to foreign airfield by individuals armed with hidden knives or guns with often fully loaded passenger planes. This time period was called the "Golden Age of Hijacking".The reasons various for the hijacking varied from political stance to ransom money. Cuba was the destination of choice for most of them as it was the nearest hostile to US landing site and it was pictured in the dazed minds of many of the hijackers as the “perfect social worker paradise”.

The airline company that toke the lion share of those hijacks was Miami-based company named Eastern Airlines. Eastern had no less than 45 of their aircraft hijacked, 27 in 1972 alone. The company launched expensive and extensive security program and the manager of operational security, a man name John Edward Shields, was instated to provide full corporation with the FAA and their newly Sky Marshal program. Mr. Shields wasn't supportive to say at least, he believed that the best place to stop a evil-doers was on the ground with security screening stops rather than a high altitude shootouts. Shields was also vocal regarding the quality of the men drafted to the Sky Marshal roles or more precisely their lack of quality… listed reports of Marshals dropping their revolver or even forget their service weapons in the plane or airport restrooms. Eventually, the FAA pressured Eastern Airlines, like other airliner companies, into cooperative understanding and Marshals boarded Eastern planes.

Mr. Shields, however had a plan B, he made while trying to hold the FAA Marshals out, if armed men are needed on the planes, they be Eastern finest: the aircraft's pilot and co-pilot, not the FAA Marshals. He turn to Colt firearms company in a request to develop a specialized handgun to arm the two crew members with specific requirements for the gun. Mr. Shield’s laid out that ammunition should not penetrate the plane fuselage, ricochet or over-penetrate the target(s).

To avoid any malice use on board, on the airport grounds,or at pilots’ houses, the gun and ammo would be separated; one pilot carry the revolver without the cylinder and the other the “revovlerless” cylinder. The gun would have been assembled at the cockpit when the two crew members were together and then locked in a onboard safe to be used when if ever needed. The revolver couldn't be loaded with a regular cylinder from a similar firearm and vice versa - the cylinder is useless without its revolver, das if any of them is stolen or taken from either of the pilots they can't be used.

Colt directed the interesting requests to one of their subsidy companies: Colt Technik of Jericho, New York. Colt Technik converted small number of Colt revolvers to test prototypes mules.

While firm numbers are unknown, at least three prototypes are known. Trooper MK III and Lawman MK V were modified to accommodate a black six shot cylinder made out of plastic called Zytel. In each cylinder were six stainless steel inserts, each one of those inserts contain primer, gunpowder, sabot and a brittle projectile made of a kind of gypsum called Plaster of Paris (PoP). The projectile is too brittle to engage the barrel rifling so it rest on plastic sabot which latch to the rifling instead. The inserts are firmly placed in the cylinder and can't be replace individually, loading and reloading the gun was done by replacing the all used cylinder with fresh one. Among the changes made the most notable is the absence of the ejection rod, as no spent cartridges are needed to be ejected the rod was trimmed completely. That trimming is even more distinguish in the case of the Lawman MK V conversion as it had a nice under barrel rod cavity left empty. The guns were tested and indeed, the brittle PoP projectiles found to be suited to the task, they could easily penetrate into human body and fragment without over penetration and stray shots shuttered when hit aircraft aluminum walls. Technik submitted their designs, manufacturing drawing and test results to Colt. However, Colt never delivered any of those guns to the airline. The Eastern Airlines board of directive, after convinced to allowed sky marshals to board Eastern airplanes, found no point in arming and training their pilots to prevent hijacking when the airline company already paid the marshal salary while losing the price ticket of the chair he sit in.

Colt latter tried to sell the concept of designated swappable cylinders as a less-lethal weapon for Law Enforcement and civilians, with the PoP bullets were replaced by rubber “riXng” bullets. Colt’s attempt, however, never bear fruit and the all idea of swappable cylinders revolver was scrapped. Number of converted revolver and cylinders were later sold to private gun owners and retailers. One interesting plot twist is that whenever one of those guns surface for sell it is labeled as “Sky Marshal” or “Air Marshal Revolver”. To the best of my research efforts, I doubt if Colt ever proposed the gun to any air/sky marshal program domestic or foreigner.

It is likely that the name was part of creative gun retailer marketing strategy to associate the strange gun with the well-known Air Marshals.

John Edward Shields pass away a few years ago and it is almost certainly that he was aware of the name attached to “his” gun. It is likely that John wasn't pleased with the idea that the gun that he set the develop and deploy to keep the Sky Marshals out of Eastern Airlines planes had been rebranded as “sky marshal” or “air marshal” revolvers. According to Technik founder and CEO, Mel Zaid, the gun or project never had a proper name, only number designations. There is also no clear reason to believe Colt ever gave it a name after their client turn their back on further funding. I propose a proper name to this interesting Colt revolver and I hope it will somehow stick. I'm suggesting that the name “Colt Shields” be the honoree name to these revolver, since I think Mr. Shields, a decorated USMC aviator, who serve in both WW2 and Korea, and his initiative are deserve to be heard and remembered.

Pressurized Environments Cartridges

Under that loose term of “Pressurized Environments cartridges” every cartridge that either issued to or developed for armed individual to be used inside a plane, either air/sky marshal or armed airliner crew member, in order to deter or stop mid-flight violent behavior be listed below.


The first US Air Marshals, or Sky Marshal as they called back then, were drawn from the ranks of the Treasury Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the guns and ammo of those newly minted Marshals would carry the same guns: the then new snub nose .38 Smith & Wesson Model 60. The cartridges that were loaded into the S&W Model 60 was also new stuff, the .38 Super-Vel. The Super-Vel was the invention of one man, Lee Jurras, who combined the finest gunpowder available with light weight hollow point aluminum bullet. The result was the handgun projectile with a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps, slightly above the speed of sound, and with conjunction of the expandable nose tip provided great stopping power with minimal risk of over-penetrating of the target. The stray bullet, however, had no difficulty to cut a hole thru the plane skin or interior partitions. So much so, that the co-pilots, according to Stephen Rustad, jokingly suggest that if the need arise to shot toward the cockpit direction to keep missing to left side of the cockpit where the pilot sat.

The Air Marshals nicknamed the Super-Vel cartridges as” Jets” but not just because they boarded and defended jet planes. During the lone and extensive training in that the range, the Marshals noted the distinctive sound of the new cartridge. As if the supersonic crack the potent .38 Super-Vel made sound like a jet engine make when an airplane lifts off.

Glaser Safety Slug

The Glaser safety slug is a frangible bullet. The bullets hollow head contains small birdshots plugged by polymer ball at the bullet tip. Several calibers available and the two possible sizes of the birdshots are indicated by the color of the bullet's tip: blue or silver.

The frangible structure of the bullet is deigned the break and fractured inside the target body deliver its full kinetic energy without over penetration.

In case of miss, the Glaser Safety Slug is less likely to ricocheting when the round hits a hard surface. For such reasons, the Glaser is ideal for operation in tight and crowded spaces and conditions as the danger to bystanders is minimal. Although not developed in mind for air marshal usage, the US Federal Air Marshall adapted and carries those rounds during the 70's & 80's. The preferred caliber was .38 special as back then the Marshals still carry those compact revolvers.

The cartridge was replaced sometime in the late 1980's with some unknown conventional hollow point round as those were much cheaper than the Glaser.

Speer Gold Dot .357

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, the US FAM program ranks were dwindle down after decades of stillness to as low as 33 Air Marshals. Their guns and ammo were basically unchanged since day one of service, a snub nose revolver in the .38 Special. And then came the events of September 11th, came and change everything. The FAM was pumped with more expansive budget, manpower, and new management. The FAMs were issue a new gun, the compact Sig Sauer P229 that was paired with the SIG developed and unusable .357 SIG caliber. This may seem like an odd choice that is made clear if you examine who was task with this rapid built-up of the now-vital Federal Air Marshal program: Thomas Dewey Quinn…a former Secret Service agent. Quinn was assigned the job of FAM director and the influence of his the years under Secret Service are fully on display with, among other things, in the weapon selection: the P229 was the standard handgun of the Secret Service. The cartridge used by the Marshals in their P229s is Speer Inc. Gold Dot .357 SIG 125 grain bullet.

The Bingham Ltd; Devastator 22LR

The Devastator was a cartridge produce by a small cottage manufacturer named Bingham Ltd from Norcross, Georgia. The mostly forgotten company specialized in drilling bullets heads and filling them with miniature canisters of explosive lead Azide making them to explosive bullets. The Devastator was the name of their explosive tip 22LR. The round was intended for vermin control and small game, the tiny explosive purpose was to fragment and mushroom the bullet upon entry into the target inflicting damage similar to larger calibers, or so Bingham Ltd ammo was advertised. The company and the round were almost totally forgotten if not one incident. On March 30, 1981, John W, Hinckley Jr attempt to assassin President Ronald Reagan using a Röhm RG-14 .22LR loaded with six Devastator rounds. Hinckley fired all the six rounds at President Reagan, but he was hit by a ricochet bullet that didn't explode.

Only one of the rounds exploded, the one that hit White House Press Secretary James Brady, who survived a head shot from that so called Devastator round (albeit Brady remained permanently disabled from the shot). When interviewed days later, Sandy L. Brygider, head of Bingham Ltd, he claim among other things that the Devastator was designed for “Sky Marshals”. There is no evidence supporting Brygider claim and it appear that it was more of Brygider's attempt to whitewash the fact that Bingham Ltd products were just used in attempt to take down a president. Brygider claim, however, did forge the myth that FAMs were issued Devastator rounds.

The MBA; Short-Stop

MBAssociates is best known and remembered for their Gyrojet weapon system, a revolutionary small size rocket ammo. Less known are their less-lethal family of products. One member of this family is the Short-stop, a miniaturized beanbag compressed and loaded into .38 Special cartridge. When fired, the bag is engaged with the barrel's rifling that spins it up, when leaving the muzzle, the centrifugal forces unfold the bag and increase its diameter and the air drag, the increased air drag slows the bag very rapidly. As result the Short-stop bullet have effective lethal range of 15 meter ( 50 feet) with further sharp decline in velocity and energy and the bag extended size and plasticity prevent it from penetrating wall or ricochet, the bag also wasn't intended to penetrate the target rather than deliver its kinetic energy as a deadly punch.

Although the Short-stop weren't developed with the Air Marshal market in mind, it become its only buyer. MBAssociates combine with Speer Inc. participant in U.S. Air Force trails in early 70's against Super-Vel (and maybe American Ballistics XAL?).

The Air Force specifically tested the cartridges penetration abilities against various airliner materials to evaluate the safety of using them in airliners. The Short-stop picked as the winner of the trial surpassing Super-Vel in accuracy and safety and chosen by the USAF to be issued its Mobility Airlift Command (MAC) aircrew members.

It isn't known what type of revolver the MAC aircrews were using.

When MBA decide to terminate their line of less-lethal armament in 1976, the Short-stop production was ended as well. There is no available information what cartridge the MAC was replaced the Short-stop with. It is also unknown if the current Air Mobility Command (AMC), which inherent MAC roles, aircrews are armed too and if they are, with what.

American Ballistics; XAL

In the Early 1980's, American Ballistics, an American ammunition manufacture, produces and delivered an experimental hollow point cartridge for testing and evaluation trial for the US Air Force. The name of this cartage was XAL, an acronym for eXpanding Aluminum, reveals the material from which the bullet was made. Like the Super-Vels used by the Federal Air Marshals, the XAL were also a .38 Special caliber round and like the Super-Vels they relayed upon their low mass projectile to achieve supersonic muzzle velocity. Combined with the bullet large front cavity, the bullet would deform and flatten inside the body target and deliver all of its kinetic energy without the risk of over-penetration. About 1000 round batch delivered Eglin Air Force Base for testing. The relations with the former cartridge of the list, the MBA Short-stop, as well of the time table is a bit iffy. Both cartridges were .38 Special and the MAC was under the authority of the Air Force. Did the Air Force initiate a separate program parallel and separate to arm the pilots of other commands of the USAF? Did the XAL tested as a replacement to the Short-Stop? There were no clear answers to those questions. Whatever USAF intend was, the XAL was never adapted by anyone.

Extreme Shock; Air Freedom (AFR)

Shortly after the September 11th Attacks, some companies rushed to capitalize the tragedy as with the given example of Air Freedom (AFR) cartridges, manufactured by the company called Extreme Shock. The AFR line of cartridges was based entirely on the idea of providing ammo that could take hijacker down without endangering the plane hull. All AFR bullets were hollow point filled with powdered Nytrillium and plugged with plastic cup. The powdered filling branded by Extreme Shock as Nytrillium was claimed to be sintered tungsten. The bullet is appeared to be frangible bullet similar the Glaser with different filling. The company went out of business in 2011, not before deployment of various calibers including some, like the 5.56x45mm NATO, that are most unlikely to be ever used onboard any airplane.

The SP-8

The SP-8 (СП-8) was the only known cartridge specially designed for commercial airliners.

The cartridge was developed by КСПЗ, a Russian cartridges manufacture, by the order of the KGB in the early 80's. Back then at the long-range flights the pilots of Aeroflot, USSR national airliner, carried a Makarov PM locked in a safe in the cockpit, and onboard some international flights an armed plainclothes KGB agent was added. The cartridge is mostly hollow bullet variant of the standard 9×18mm Makarov PM cartridge. The projectile low mass and tendency the fragment upon impact was to insure no over penetration of airplane walls. Not much else is known of the cartridge, as far as my research went. Oddly, the current Russian government, like the previous one, still does not possess a dedicated Air Marshal program like the US and the question of whether or not the pilots of civilian Russians airlines are still armed is unknown as well. This is very odd considering the threat of terrorist aimed at Russian commercial airliners.

The Case for Space Boarding and Armed Boarding Parties

It is a common trope in many space Sci-Fi for an armed boarding party to breaking into an enemy spaceship or space station from the airlock or by cutting thru the hull. These space boarders are carried to battle by specialized small vessels called “boarding shuttles” or “breaching pods”. Common as the trope is, it is very difficult to justify it when consider the realities of space travel and space combat. Space is big…really-really big, and any fire exchange between spaceships will be conducted at a mind blowing distances. In such distances, even light may take seconds to minutes to cross the gap, making positioning the other ship uncertain. Any weapon used, be it missiles, railgun slugs or DE beams, ought to be fast to hit the target without been dogged by target ship’s evasive maneuvering or intercepted by point defense system. In this scenario, boarding parties that lack teleporter technology, are expected to cross the gap between the two battling warship rapidly and safely traverse the gap while carry the human payload back AND expected to slowly decelerate to halt when nearing the enemy ship, who shooting and maneuvering the entire time. Open season much? On top of that, if the target spaceship propulsion drive is nuclear, the ship’s own reactor is a deadly point defense system. Approaching that ship from anywhere other the nose direction will dose the boarding team with danger amount of radiation.

There are three possible scenarios of spaceborne boarding: brazen, stealth & or-else. The first is the most common in Sci-Fi, the brazen boarding is the space equivalent of brazen robbery, in mid-combat, when missiles flying around the daring ship ram its opponent, breaching the way for space marines to step and board the enemy ship (as seen in Arcadia of My Youth) . Sometime the ramming is done by the ship dispatching several small shuttles or pods each carry a small number of marines to achieve the same goal.

The second method is the stealth boarding tactic. The ship is quietly approaching the target without alerting anyone and latches on to the target vessel. The boarder will then start to cut into the ship skin to open their way inside. The problems with those two methods are clear; space is a sensor-friendly environment as well as weapon friendly. There are no obstacles like rain or horizon to block line of sight or line of fire. Making through the gap between the two warships without noticed is nigh impossible, so there is no change of stealthy docking. The brazing closing pods are also not good. Any ship in combat worth its salt, could track the incoming pods and either maneuver away from them or blowing them out of the water, or likely both. Bye-bye space Vikings.

Before unveil the third approach to boarding, it is important to examine the reasons one might need to board another spaceship. Destroying the enemy ship is the least plausible reason, there is little an armed space marine could use to damage a warship than a nuke or kinetic slug couldn't do better, faster, cheaper and without danger human life (other than the humans in the ship you shot at, obviously). If, at the end of the space battle, the enemy ship is too damaged to repel boarding pods, it can't protect itself from other types of weapons either. If you want to destroy the crippled enemy just spare one more round and close the deal, or paraphrase Eli Wallach: "If you want to shoot, shoot! Don’t board!"

Stealth boarding for destruction purpose also doesn't make sense, if a ship can close the distance to its enemy undetected it can also leave without notice. If the ship can latch itself to the enemy, it could also latch a remote detonate nuke to the enemy ship body and sneakily get out of the blast radius before pushing the bottom. Second reason is to cripple the enemy ship without destroying it and/or kill its crew. If for whatever reasons the objective is to damage enemy ship so it couldn't fight or change trajectory, it is possible to do so: damaging the engine heat radiators or puncturing propellant tank etc. None of those methods need any boarding parties involved. If the enemy ship could defended itself from boarding pods it isn't crippled enough and required more shots to pound it to dust and if it is so damaged it can't stop boarding pods that ship could be marked as disabled and mission accomplish, and in such case why sent anyone there?

If a stealth ship objectives is disabling the enemy it could do so by placing small explosive charges instead of a big nuke next to the enemy ship's crucial parts before sneak out, achieving the objective without messy boarding.

The third reason is to grab hold on the ship itself or something valuable the ship carries, be it may some important HVT or data in the ship's memory banks (has seen in the Wing Commander film), but all boiled down to this: the ship should not be harmed (too much) and someone have to board into it to retrieve that something or someone. The problem begins as the first major step prior to boarding is crippling the target so it couldn't resist the boarding, if the motive for boarding is the value of the boarded ship and the boarder value the ship more than its scrap metal price any damage inflicted to the target to make boarding possible also diminish the target value and the justification for boarding in the first place.

Also, if the ship crew is dedicated to defend whatever the boarder desire and ready to fight to the last man standing and  they will not hesitate to push the self-destructed bottom to take the boarding team down with them; depriving them of their prize. No matter how fast and efficient your boarding party is - you will never outrun someone hand to the red bottom. And of course, some of the potential boarder's prizes could be eliminated without blowing your own ship: shot the hostages or prisoners; delete the top secret data from the computer memory and such.

Last motive for space boarding is tidally locked to the third method of boarding. Stealth in space is almost impossible, everyone sees everyone… up to a point or more accurate up to a ship hull. Studying ship engine output emissions will reveal the engine thrust and couple with the ship acceleration reveal the ship approximate mass. That data for itself is useless; a space hauler might carry its declared cargo of iron ore or weapon grade Uranium. The properties of inanimate cargo are difficult to tell from a far and when it comes down to the identity of the people on board or their motives, save some magic Star Trek sensors the content of a spaceship could be a mystery unless it will be boarded and inspect. A space fleet place a blockade on enemy planet or space station might allowed some humanitarian aid arrived to that planet or station but need to block any weapon or troops shipments, without a boarding team inspecting the vessel there will be no way to tell. Atomic Rocket has a great webpage devoted to future quasi-military organizations, the outer space equivalents to coast guard, customs, etc. All basically relays on boarding civilian ships for search and inspection, similar to modern coast guard day-job activity.

That is the last method of boarding, the or-else approach, and armed spaceship part of “the authorities” either standard military or quasi-military is in the interest of board and inspect a civilian vessel. The armed spaceship contact the civilian one and demand, politely first and shot across the bow if needed, that the civics are to be boarded and resistance is futile at best or disastrous at worst. Such or-else scenarios are the most plausible spaceborne boarding might take, when two ships one outgun and out-maneuvering the other and by threat of brute force convey the would be boarded ship to match trajectories and quietly let a space equivalent of ship boat to dock to the airlock and allow the boarding party enter in.

Such party ought to be armed, if a ship dispatch men to examine a ship is suspected of been hijacked which its passengers are hostages sending those men unarmed might confirm that suspect by providing the hijacker/s with additional hostages and a fully fueled runway shuttle. Even if the ship captain and crew cooperate at (ship mounted) gun point they might play with the idea of taking the boarding party members hostages and negotiate with the sending ship for their release if the think the boarder ship captain value his people life high enough. A gun must be holster to every member of the party to remind the boarded ship crew and passengers who's the boss and a peaceful corporate with the law and author is preferable. In such circumstances, a weapon designed to operate in spaceship pressurized cabins is desire as the boarder don't want to inflict any unnecessary damage to the ship and any non-involved bystander.

Other Potential Users of Pressurized Environments Firearms

Star/Space Marshals

The future equivalent of modern time sky and air marshals, the Star Marshals or Space Marshals will board a civilian spaceliners in plainclothes disguised as regular passenger or crew member to deter spacejackers and if needed, shoot down any hijack attempt. These Space Marshals “guns” will likely be similar those of today's Marshal as well, being a compact concealed handgun with its ammunition will selected to minimize the danger to the crew, passengers and the expensive vessel.

Security and Military Police

Spaceships, space stations, colonies & mining operation bases; all needs some level of armed security force to keep the law and order in check. Even military installations like ships, stations and bases need military police to enforce the order and break all those bar fights between officers. In most cases, those guns will be holstered and carry openly to recognized the man or woman as a member the local law enforcement at the scene and insure cooperation. In some cases, a luxury cruise spaceship for example, the guns will be stored in ship's vault like in modern cruise ship only to be issued to trained crew members in emergency or when Mangalores attack.

Starjackers and Pirates

The evildoers of the future will their enjoy piece of the action with such purposely build PHF as those guns will enable them to control over (hopefully for them) unarmed crew and passengers of civilians spaceships without endangering their prize ship and hostages, not to mention the shooter’s own life. In the case of starjackers, those guns ought to be easily concealable and able to pass under the scrutiny of the sensors of spaceport security if the hijackers hope to board with the guns in their possession. In case of space pirates, if someone built his universe (like Leiji Matsumoto) in which the common recognized wet navy piracy could exist in outer space those pirates boarding tactics will be similar to the general boarding tactics discussed above and similarly the firearms those pirates boarding teams will likely be similar too.

Interstellar Repo Men

Many of the advocates of space conquest and colonization, me included, believe that a true human presence in space will be achieved by embracing the principles of the free-market system and the pursuit of wealth. Private companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and others lowing launch cost and open the door to private companies and individual rushing up to make their lucky strike. In such environment, some of the least pleasant practices of Terra might export to the stars as well. Say you are an individual or part of a small group in the interest of buying your first used spaceship to head on your way to get rich or die trying. Maybe you part of bunch of miners buying a prospecting ship to find that motherload ore deposit in the asteroids belt or maybe half of Maw & Paw business plan on open a hot-dog stand to serve the Mars colonists. Your group don't have enough cash to buy your dream spaceship, what can you do?

Enter the loaner, ranging from respectable bank to back alley loan sharks. There will be those who are ready to temporary add their money to close that gap between what cash you have and the amount you need, you will return that sum of money with interest cause the loaner is like you… in the business of making money or he’ll break your legs.

Of course, the loaner isn't fond of losing either and that what new businesses and entrepreneurs are best at, most businesses fails and they can't or won't want to pay the loaner to repay the loan. This futuristic space loaner, like his counterparts back on Earth, have a way around losses.

When the loan is done, the spaceship will be mortgage and serve as collateral in case of borrower defaults. If the borrower foreclosure, the ship will be repossess and sold by the loaner and if the mortgage is recourse debt type and the collateral sell does not cover the full value of the defaulted amount the borrower is now a debt slave, if not the borrower is “free” to try hitchhike his/her way back home as he or she rot as lurker in the slums sections of the space station. Given such lovely options, some borrowers would simply not turned their ship-home and livelihood back for repossession, but rather turn their transponder beacon off and giving the loaner run for their money out in the black.

For such cases there are professionals for that task as well: the repossesses or Repo-man. These are the kind who take the efforts to go out and capturing the ship and if possible, its owner and bring them back to the loaner. Repos could be company employees or independent contractor hired by the loaner. Capturing the ship intact is prime objective for the repo-man as the loaner is interest in the ship aftermarket value and pays the repo fixed percentage of the collateral price. There may be ways to kill the borrower, without devalue the collateral, like enhance radiation bomb (aka neutron bombs) or particles beam that will dose the owner, cause he or she to die slowly while the ship hull slowly cool off radiation. Problem is that generally more trouble than it worth. Even if authorities are OK with civilian vessels are armed with death ray and N-bombs, which the likely wouldn't the dying owner of the ship can easily explode his ship to save himself from the slow agony radiation sickness and to have the last laugh as the repo watch his prize blows. A worst scenario is that the owner booby traps their ship to blow up when the landing party break in to the reclaim the collateral taking the prize and the landing team.

A debt defaulter might have the bright idea to avoid the repo ship and the mistakable notion that the repo can't do sh*t to the capture the ship without damaging the repo reward but that ain't so, there is a little thing that called “reputation”, a loaner might offer the repo a payment for blowing the collateral and the debt runner to dither future potential runner from giving the repos hard work. So, the foreclosed spaceship is going to be boarded similar to the or-else method described above and like the case of inspection boarding the repo boarding party will pack firearms to bring the owner or passengers into submission and cooperation with the repos.

Bounty Hunters

There are many similarities between repo-man and bounty hunters (we don’t need their scum!), both are payed to track and hunt their prize and bring it back with little harm as possible, preferably alive (no disintegrations!). The boundaries between the repos and bounty hunters blur if the debt defaulter sigh a recourse mortgage then the loaner wants both the collateral and borrower back intact as the ship resold in the repossession yard and the borrower have to find somehow a way to pay the rest of the loan. In any case, the bounty hunter ship like the repo ship method of operation is to force the target ship to allow a boarding party to board the ship and capture the target.

Explosive Decompression Myth in Popular Media

(ed note: for mathematical details about being sucked out an open airlock, go here)

Tracking the origin of a common misconception or trope is generally not an easy task. Not so in the case of the case of explosive decompression, its potential causes and its outcomes. In 1964, Goldfinger, the epic third movie of the James Bond series (and one of the best in the entire series), hit the cinemas and it became a major cultural and financial successes. Two scenes from that memorable film gave birth to the airplane (and later spaceship) explosive decompression myth. The first occur when Mr. Bond is held at gun point by Pussy Galore in mid-flight, Bond point out that given the fire power of Ms. Galore's Smith & Wesson any bullet fired will go through him and the fuselage "like a blowtorch through butter" and as result "The cabin will depressurize and we'll be sucked into outer space together". The second occur at the movie climax when Bond and Goldfinger wrestling, with Goldfinger holding a gold-plated revolver and in the middle of the two men fight over the gun it fired and the bullet break one of the plane windows. Just as James warn Pussy earlier the rapid depressurized suck out the plane interior through the small window, James is manage to firm hold some of the plane's chairs but Goldfinger, despite his considerable weight, is lifted by the strong sucking and thrown against the window, after a short dramatic pause where Goldfinger's girth plugging the hole he been pressured out to “outer space”. The movie Goldfinger is the sole responsible for that engraved explosive decompression trope and it span and repeated endlessly afterward. The question then becomes is where the movie screen writers got their idea from?

Naturally, one need not look further than Ian Fleming's original novel Goldfinger for answers, the novel publish in 1959 and indeed, the fatal depressurized scene appear there, too. The details are a bit different though, when held on a plane by Oddjob, Goldfinger's Korean handyman, not at gun point but by Oddjob shear strength and toughness Bond contemplate how he could upper handed Oddjob. Bond has no weapon, save the small spring dagger concealed in his boot. Bond remembered an incident were a passenger were blown out of airliner window at 18,000 feet above Persia (now present day Iran) and that in the press conference it was claimed that the poor soul was “sucked out to outer space”. Bond use his small dagger to tear a hole in the window next to Oddjob not before he himself strap in, resulting in Oddjob thrown out of his chair and out of the plane in a rather dramatic fashion. Seem like a pure fantasy, but such an incident did actually happened.

On April 21, 1957 on an Air France Super Constellation flight from Tehran to Istanbul (not Constantinople) an 31 years old American name Jack Rodney Nash, who sat in the window seat, disappeared into the night as the window glass next to him shattered. According to some accounts Nash slept with his head lean against the window when it breaks. Combining with the fact that the seat was near the emergency door and those door's windows tend to be larger than regular plane windows all hint that Nash involuntary exit of the aircraft was more falling and pull of the air moving rather than “sucked out” via the pressure imbalance, but the newspapers did use the term of “sucked” and “outer space”. Fleming, who read those news reports incorporate the actual event into his novel and thus, the myth was born.

Firearms and Cartridges of Submarine Crews

There are many parallels and similarities between spaceships and submarines; prime among those is the enclosed pressurized environments both kinds of vehicles contain. There is one major difference between those two types, a spaceship have to hold maximum of 1Atm of inner pressure against the vacuum of space, when a submarine is squeeze inward by water pressure of multi-Atmospheres. If the submerge vehicle use regular air mixture and not saturated atmosphere mixture it is the job of the sub's pressure hull to shield the vessel and crew from implosion. And it much worse than just the absolute pressure difference that a sub have to holds compere to a spaceship, the submarine pressure hull loaded with inward force from all directions face the danger of catastrophic buckling, if such thing occur the sub will implode in a mere seconds, the crew won't have the time a spaceship's crew have to take actions to save their live or the craft.

Luckily, the engineering constrains that dictates a thick and sturdy hull that handle the outside pressure can basically shrug of most of small arms bullets without harm. Nowadays, at least from the available information about US Navy submarines, the subs' crew carry various firearms including pistols, SMG & shotguns, for the intended purpose that is NOT to repel boarders or the arm the crew for boarding enemy submarines either or fighting off the kraken…such scenarios are nigh impossible.

Instead the weapons are stored in the sub armory vault and are used to arm the crew when the sub is docked in the harbor, it is the duty of sub crew to guard the submarine when enter, departure and docked in the harbor from any hostile. Another fairly bizarre armament the US subs carries in their armory vaults is older long guns in full power cartridges such as the M1 Garand & M14. It almost like the crew of the submarine go out hunting or something...Well, sort of hunting, accidentally in mid mission the crew enjoy a surface leave – the sub surface in the middle of the sea or break the ice in the North Pole and let the crew members to stretch their legs and breathe fresh air. If the sub surface in the middle of the sea the crew members could jump in for a swim, if it surface the ice for some running and games on the open ice fields. Both cases on the sub watch-tower stands one submariner with the scooped rifle and search for predators around who feels hungry for some Navy snacks, in the mid-sea it is sharks and polar bears in the poles.

Designing the Perfect PEF

Designing one “perfect” firearm to match the many different conditions and circumstances a shooter/warfighter could face within pressurize arenas is not an easy task and it a great deal a game of compromise between contradicting requirements and specs. As mention in the previous segments of the article, this boils down to a revolver platform. It could be used one handed like any handgun which suits perfectly any CQC situation, especially when fighting in zero-g where it beneficial to have one freed hand to grab a handle or ladder to fix the shooter leaning close to the wall. A revolver can clear dud rounds single handed unlike autoloader, it won't spew empty cases after each shot- only when it time to reload the cylinder.

Since revolvers cycle manually with trigger pulls, the cylinder is indifferent to chamber pressures and could be loaded with wide variety of ordnance various from anti-riots rubber bullets to armor piercing provide greater versatility in different situations and conditions.

Contrary to common belief, it is possible to suppress revolver if a proper gas seal is archived between the cylinder and barrel (known as 'cylinder gap') as in the case of the Russian Nagant M1895 revolver. Another option are revolvers designed for totally enclose piston cartridges. All those techniques used for a silenced revolver could be used to prevent cabin air contamination.

One mostly unknown revolver concept that may be seemly fit for PEF is the Cobray Pocket Friend revolver, a piece of crap gun that nevertheless has an intriguing layout. The revolver is a twin barrel over and under gun, the lower barrel chamber for 22LR and aligned with the lower chamber in the cylinder at 6 o'clock, the upper barrel chamber for .38 ACP and aligned with the upper chamber in the cylinder at 12 o'clock. The gun was sold with two cylinders, the one chamber for .38 ACP had three chambers and the one chamber for 22LR had 5. Both cylinders had a matching curved grooved on the cylinder curvature.

The revolver was double action trigger, per each pull of the trigger the cylinder rotate 120 degrees in the case of the .38 cylinder and 72 degrees in the case of the 22 cylinder. The doubled firing pin hummer hit both cylinders in the 6 and 12 o'clock positions but hit and ignite the right cartridge only when it aligned with it matching barrel. The Cobray is a break open revolver with swappable cylinders, unfortunately the removal and replacement of cylinders is anything but fast, and there were only those two cylinders supplied with the gun. A future design focus on fast ejection of spent cylinder when break open and easy insert of fresh cylinder combined with Shields' preloaded dispensable cylinders could results with the most versatile revolver possible, a handgun that can fire a range of various ammo types in two separate calibers and with the ability to be rapidly switched from one type of ammunition to another with mere swap of the cylinder.

This is the Outer Space Future – Where is my Ray-Gun?

Some readers might object to the exclusion of Directed-Energy Weapon (DEW) options when designing my perfect PEF and it sure it is odd that any future scenario where deep manned space flight is ongoing and there is human presence off-world exist that the preferred gun of choice to those spaceship boarders are confided to old wheel guns, not so different from their ancestors of the Wild West of beloved Terra. Why an old technology to my mind more likely to dominate the highest frontier at the expense of modern or futurist firearms?

Personal Bias

I ain't gonna lie; I love the aesthetics of old lever action repeaters and revolvers. Something about the manual cycling of the gun have the feeling of more real and intimate connection between the flesh and the steel that the fancy autoloaders lacks. Those guns were also the guns used by lawmen and criminals, the hardened settlers and Native Americans at the conquest of the American West Frontier and I really like the symbolic correlation between the future conquests of space (the last frontier) to the American frontier of the past. Placing a revolvers in the hands of the pioneers who will step out to the stars to make them their own is a much appealing move.

Not all Technologies Scale Down Well

One strong objection to the rejection of DEW is the claim that any future civilian capable of harness the energies required for powering the interplanetary or interstellar spaceships will surely be away pass the weak chemical reaction driven projectile guns of the past in favor of some sort of personal energy weapon. That, however, is a false argument that doesn't consider one key aspect – some technologies are difficult or impossible to scale down from the spaceship level to the compact handgun size. Consider a modern example of nuclear submarine, its power source is the most advanced and compact nuclear electrical power plant that physics and engineering could produce.

However, the officer-in-charge of running the reactor (or 'Nuke' as he or she is called in the US Navy), if armed, would they be armed with plain pistol? Such pistol would most likely patterned after the long serving Colt M1911 .45 pistol or the M9 9mm, a century old gun layout. Its ammo are metallic cartridges, similar in nature to mid-19th century ancestors, which contains gunpowder not so different than the black powder the Chinese used to repel the Mongols with. Why the 'Nuke' not carry an atomic blaster? Thing is that atomic energy doesn't scale down too well, a nuclear reactor is run around the critical mass of the reactor's Uranium pile, reduce the fuel mass by half won't cut the reactor power by mass but simply cut off the nuclear process all together. And there is the shielding concerned of placing enough thickness of dense mass between the fuel and the user, easy to achieve with large reactor as the power output is increase by the cube law while the shielding mass only increase by the square law. Bottom line – even if you are stationed on an atomic spaceship with cutting-edge nuclear thermal rocket engines, that doesn't mean you could holster a ray gun to your belt.

If It's Not Broken…

The principle of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is to keep in mind whenever speculated and extrapolating about future technologies, slow and steady do win races. Many of the concepts we been examine in this article points towards underpowered guns and ammunition as the best choice to those who will carry arms indoors, when common gunpowder is more than enough to tackle threats and not endangering the bystanders or the vessel/station there is no justification to pour in R&D founds to crank up anything as outlandish as a blaster.

Examples of Pressurize Environments Firearms: Examples in Sci-Fi

Mr. Garibaldi’s .38 Revolver from Babylon 5 Episode “Grey 17 is missing”

In the Babylon 5 ‘verse there are no slug throwers in sight, all of the guns are plasma pistols or rifles. In 1996 episode "Grey 17 is missing (3x19)", the rationale behind the EarthForce decision to dump old fashion firearms and replace than with DEW is explain by none other than Michael Garibaldi.
Shortly after the station cut its ties with Earth and the Clark Government, Zack Allan noticed Garibaldi marveling his grandmother's Smith & Wesson. 38 Caliber revolver. Allan apparently never saw such antiquity outside of museums and Garibaldi schools Allan that EarthForce preferred the PPGs because those kills by "burn flesh" and won't punch a hole in the spaceships' pressurized cabins. According to Garibaldi, back on Earth, slug throwers are still in use for private security and practice shooting. It is also noted that although the PPGs of Garibaldi and other B5 security members are DEWs their structure and appearance is more street cop service revolver style, a fresh air after the Star Trek sanitized Phaser "Dust Buster" layout.

The TR-116 Rifle from ST: DS9 Episode  "Field of Fire"

In the Star Trek universe, both artificial energy damping fields and natural radiogenic particle environments are disruptive to the function of phasers. To allow its members to operate and fight in such circumstances, Starfleet R&D developed both the TR-116 rifle and later the regenerative phaser. The TR-116 is a rare example of chemically propelled slugthrower for Star Trek, the bullets were made of Tritanium, a fictional metal that been used to build from most of the Federation starships. The TR-116 were rejected in favor of the regenerative phaser which only mention but never seen on screen.

The Lack of Slug-Throwers in the Star Wars Universe

Many have question the lack of bullets and normal guns in the Star Wars universe, especially consider how lousy those blasters everyone carry seems to be. Those blasted things can't hit anything, the “laser” bolts they fires race to the target slower than a primitive arrow, revealed the shooter where about like tracer and so on. Why the uber advanced species and civilizations of the SW galaxy do not use good old sluggers?! One non-canon fans theory is that, as the case with B5, the various species and societies of SW found that bullets are a hazard to all of the dwellers of the pressurized spaceships and habitats and settled with the blasters which apparently won't danger the cabins. I wonder how Jedi would fare against a hail of bullets?

The Accident with the Hadley’s Hope Weyland-Yutani Atmospheric Processor from ALIENS

The Atmospheric Processor from 1986’s ALIENS presents a unique example of the dangers of using and applying inappropriate ammo in the wrong environment. In an ironic twist, the processor whose purpose is process and convert unbreathable atmospheres of alien worlds to regular good Terran atmospheric standard air and eliminating the need in pressurize cabins is the victim of over-penetration ammunition.

When a platoon of Colonial Marines are dispatch to investigate the radio silence of a colony of Hadley's Hope on LV-426, they found out that the colony was overrun, but found no dead bodies to tell about the event. The Marines tracked the transponder beacons every colonist carry and find that the missing colonist are all gathered inside of the processor, not knowing that the processor was reclaim by the Xenomorph queen and transformed to a Xeno hive as the Marines steps into the processor.

When Ripley point out to the Lieutenant that the Marines' 10mm explosive-tip bullets could seriously damage the processor's cooling pipes that cool the processor's fusion reactor he order sergeant Apone to take his soldiers' pulse units from their M41A1 rifles and M56 smartguns and switch to flamethrowers instead. Both Vasquez and Drake, the M56 gunners, slip in a replacing pulse unit into their guns that they kept hidden in their pouch. When the Xenos assault the Marines, both Vasquez and Drake spray the Xenos with hot loads of 10mm bullets, taking a number of Xenos down, but in doing that damaging the reactor cooling system and set the time counting down to the processor nuclear explosion that would cover an area the size of Nebraska.

The Federal Marshal Browning 2000 shotguns from OUTLAND

In the mining outpost of Con-Am 27 on the violent moon of Jupiter, there are no other firearms beside shotguns. The outpost Federal Marshals carries sawed off 12 gauge Browning 2000 shotguns and even the hitmen sent to hunt and silence Marshal O'Niel are issued with scoped version of the Browning 2000. The reason that the director, Peter Hyams, equips the Marshals and hitmen of the far-future with simple shotgun isn't a secret. The movie was set as a “space western” theme that liberally borrowed many themes from classic Western movies like High Noon. And if one wants a Western, you ought to have either revolver or shotgun or both.

In-universe explanation is that in the universe of Outland where vacuum cause humans to instantly pop like party balloons it is wise not to have any gun with capability to drill holes and let the evil-evil vacuum enter in. In one incident, when one of the two hitmen where drawn by spacesuited O'Neil to fire throw the greenhouse glass the shot left a single big hole, evidently caused by solid slug ammunition. The hitman didn't live long to regret his ammunition preference. The Outland novelization providers further detailed about those future shotguns. Those guns are similar to modern shotguns but have variable muzzle velocity selector enable the user to set the desirable muzzle velocity and penetration capability needed for the job.

The Fall Train from Total Recall (2012)

The 2012 remake to 1990 Schwarzenegger movie feature a unique method of transportation between the two left reminisce of human civilization, a gravity train connects the British Islands with Australia via a tunnel that going way down into Earth mantle grazing the core. The Fall, as this train is called, is simply dropped at one end and fall down by its weight to the tunnel and Earth other side where it catches again. At the middle of the track when the train is closest to the core the passengers experience zero gravity for a few seconds.

The Fall and its Null G phase are the scene for a dramatic free fall shootout as Douglas Quaid spray bullets at the bad guys he simultaneously propel himself and Melina backward away of danger.

Quaid is using TDI Vector SMG, likely chamber of 45ACP, and holds 25 rounds with the extended magazine. Colin Farrell mass is 80 kg and Jessica Biel is 55Kg (according to Healthy Celeb website). Factoring in 45ACP bullet mass 230gr and nuzzle velocity 255m/s, a full mag damped should propelled the weightless couple to 10.8m/s. this is over simplify calculation neglecting the mass of the gun and ammo as each shot should propel back the yet fired cartridges but in that scene the two seem to driven by the recoil slower than this 10.8m/s. So, I would declare that as at least plausible if you ignore that such off the center of mass recoil should impart the two with both linear velocity and angular velocity make them tumbling in midair.

The Limited Range Shotguns from The Forever War

In the final campaign of the Forever War at Sade-138, Major William Mandela task force were issue among many other technological marvels of future warfare with shotgun shells contains thousands tiny flechettes that can instantly kills up to range of five meters and turned to harmless vapor at six. It been used for close quarters ranges where the laser-fingers of the power suits are too dangerous to be used. Those shotgun shells are fired from the standard grenade launchers the UNEF soldiers are carry.

The Robo Ammunition from Seveneves

All that remains of humanity 5000 years into the future are gathered in space stations orbiting Earth. The spacers replace the old bullets with smart robotic bullets called 'roboammo' that if missed the target it decelerate using little parachutes to prevent collateral damage. Those roboammo bullets don't relays on kinetic energy either, to counter any thick clothing or armor the roboammo can cruel and search to find weak points and latch to target deliver electric shock or tranquiller substance to knock off the target without killing him or her.

The Boarding of USS Benedict from ALIENS: Outbreak Dark Horse Comic

The span of time between ALIENS and ALIEN 3, the gap was fitted by Dark Horse Comics’ important follow-up limited Black-&-White series. This told the sad tale of two of the survivors of LV-426 massacre: Newt and Hicks. Due to his personal experience with the Xenos, Hicks is selected as the command staff of a dangerous mission to the Xeno homeworld via the advanced USCMC warship, the Benedict. Hot on the heels of the Benedict is the BioNational corporate ship, the K-104 commander by the psychopathic Massey. Using a traitor, the K-104 overtakes and boards the Colonial Marine vessel. During the briefing, Massey tells the PMCs of the K-104 to use “low-level blasters” for the “soft” targets…like equipment and the crew. He gives the explanation that despite the armored hull, an unlucky shot will rapture the hull. Sadly, Dark Horse Comics retconned this important comic, altering the names of the main characters to not conflict with the events of ALIEN3.


      “Stand inside,” They entered.
     “So, this is the new boy?” The woman looked Kelly up and down, without expression. “What’s your name?”
     “Kelly, ah, Ma’am.”
     “The proper form of address is Captain or Skipper. There’s also Gertie, but I’ll kick your behind the length of this ship if you ever use it while aboard. On this ship, Skipper is customary. Kelly what? Do you have another name?”
     “No, Ma—Skipper. It was the only name I had when the orphanage picked me up in the refugee camp, so…”
     “Kelly it is, then,” she said, punching some keys on her console. With a click, a thin, flexible gold band extruded from a slot. She took the band and clipped it around Kelly’s right wrist.
     “You are now a spacer aboard the tramp Space Angel. Your rank is Probationary Spaceman, Second Class. Once per ship-month you and the rest of the crew will turn in your bracelets to me to have your record updated.” She had been businesslike to begin with, but her next instructions were even more so. “You will both now give me your personal sidearms.”
     Without comment, Torwald reached into his bag and retrieved two holstered pistols. Kelly’s eyes widened at the sight of them. One was an ordinary slug gun that fired a high-velocity metal missile—the kind most police carried. The other was the one that made Kelly blink. It was a Service laser, and ex-officers of the Services were the only civilians allowed to carry them on Earth. The skipper took the pistols and turned to Kelly.
     “No sidearms?” she asked.
     “Just the knives we got at the surplus shop. Do you want those?”
     “No, you can keep them as long as you don’t use them on your shipmates. Any beam or high-velocity slug weapons, however, must be turned over to the ship’s master to be locked in the arms safe before lift-off. If, later, you are found to have such a weapon in your posession, I can cycle you out the airlock without benefit of life-support system.” She gave Kelly a few seconds to absorb that great, grim truth, then continued in a lighter tone. “Now, why don’t you two go down to the mess and meet your new shipmates?"

     “What took you so long?” Torwald asked as the boy entered.
     “How come everybody says that?” said Kelly, growing irritated.
     “Because you’re expected to step lively in space, and you haven’t stepped lively enough. On the old sea-going ships, slow crewmen were helped along with a rope’s end applied where it would do the most good. You’re not back on the block, you know.” Torwald turned to rummage through a pile of invoices, and Baily looked around at the chaotic jumble of the supply room. His eye caught by a rack of machines sanding against a bulkhead. They were shiny-black devices of metal and plastic that looked something like forcebeam rifies, but heavier and larger, each with a complex folding tripod. Kelly reached out to pick one up.
     “Don’t touch it!” snapped Torwald.
     “Huh?” Kelly was startled at the real anger in Torwald’s voice.
     “Never touch a lightbeam device aboard ship! Remember when the skipper demanded our sidearms, and I gave her my Service laser? That wasn’t just for form. You can cut a ship this size clean in two with one of those things—it’s expressly forbidden for any crew member to handle a device that can destroy the integrity of the ship’s hull. Only the engineer and med officer are exempted, and then only under specific conditions. The skipper even has to be present when Michelle uses her laser scalpel or tooth drill. For that matter, I can’t even test these cutters until we make planetfall. That’s why we generally make elaborate tests at the point of purchase. Once you’ve upped ship, it’s too late.”
     “They’re shortbeams, aren’t they? Why not set it for a half-meter beam and test it‘? That’d be safe.”
     “What if it’s the depth control that’s malfunctioning, dummy?”
     “Oh, yeah,” Kelly said sheepishly nodding as the light dawned.

(ed note: because the Space Angel is going into an unexplored area with dangerous planets, they contract to carry a pair of Vivers. These are genetically engineered humans turned into combat creatures. )

     Just then the main lock buzzer announced the arrival of the newcomers, and the skipper cycled the ock open for their new shipmates. The first one zhrough was a seven-footer, followed by a companion about half a foot shorter.
     “I am K’Stin,” said the taller, “son of K’Tok, who is commander of the Avenger, grandson of K’Din, who slew thousands in the battle off Wotan, great-grandson of K’Tang, who built the first great clan ship, and so on back to K’Tchak, founder of the clan. This,” he jerked a taloned thumb over his shoulder the shorter one, “is B’Shant, whose ancestry is not quite as illustrious as mine, but is still quite respectable. He is my ninety-second cousin by seven lines of parallel descent and forty-four marriage ties, with a number of ambiguous familial tangencies. I am sure that you soft and depraved persons have no appreciation of such things, but you may rejoice in our protective presence.”
     “Pleased to meet you,” the skipper said. “Now, I notice that you two are dripping with weapons, which is fine with me, since most of your duties will involve using them. However, we’re now in space, so please hand over your lightbeam and high-velocity projectile weapons, to be put in the ship’s arms locker.”

     Both Vivers drew into defensive postures.

     “Nonsense!” shouted K’Stin. “Abandon weapons in the presence of strangers? I make scornful and insulting noises at you! I am struck with mirth at the very idea.”
     Trouble already. Michelle stepped in diplomatically to smooth things over. “Now, gentlemen, surely you can’t anticipate any threat from our feeble selves? I am sure that the eleven of us, armed or unarmed, could be no match for two of the glorious K’Tchak, or even for one. You must understand our anxiety about any device aboard ship that might damage the hull. Even a slight drop in our oxygen level can kill us, though it would be but a slight discomfort to you. (Vivers can survive for prolonged periods in vacuum)
     “We never have accidents with weapons,” K’Stin said. “You have nothing to fear.”
     “True, of course, but there is always the possibility of a mechanical malfunction. Besides, the whole point of this exercise, for you, is the endurance of hardship and danger. Suppose you begin by learning to get along without those power weapons?”

     With poor grace they gave the skipper their powered arms, dipping into their bags until she had about a half-dozen from each. This did not leave them exactly unarmed. The deck was now littered with swords, clubs, collapsible spears, bows, slings, garrotes and a variety of other lethal hardware. The skipper dubiously eyed a bandolier of grenades K’Stin had handed her. “You sure that’s all?” she asked.
     “They would not let us come heavily armed,” K’Stin assured her. “If we need more powerful arms, we must make them. Only the bare essentials are allowed on the manhood test.”

From SPACE ANGEL by John Maddox Roberts (1979)


Proper markmanship includes grip, aiming, breath control, trigger squeeze, target engagement, and positions. Don't rely upon what you see in Hollywood movies, most of it is utterly worthless. Especially holding your pistol sideways, with your palm down.

And there will be a few slight difference with different types of weapons. For instance, slugthrowers have plenty of recoil, gyrojet rocket guns have a small amount of recoil, and laser weapons have no recoil at all.

Excerpts from FM 3-23.35 Combat training with pistols. Refer to the manual for other factors not touched upon below. Images from Wikimedia Commons. Sidearm pictured is a Beretta 92F


One Hand Grip

Hold the weapon in the nonfiring hand; form a V with the thumb and forefinger of the strong hand (firing hand). Place the weapon in the V with the front and rear sights in line with the firing arm. Wrap the lower three fingers around the pistol grip, putting equal pressure with all three fingers to the rear. Allow the thumb of the firing hand to rest alongside the weapon without pressure. Grip the weapon tightly until the hand begins to tremble; relax until the trembling stops. At this point, the necessary pressure for a proper grip has been applied. Place the trigger finger on the trigger between the tip and second joint so that it can be squeezed to the rear. The trigger finger must work independently of the remaining fingers. NOTE: If any of the three fingers on the grip are relaxed, the grip must be reapplied.

Two Handed Grips

The two-hand grip allows the firer to steady the firing hand and provide maximum support during firing. The nonfiring hand becomes a support mechanism for the firing hand by wrapping the fingers of the nonfiring hand around the firing hand. Two-hand grips are recommended for all pistol firing. WARNING Do not place the nonfiring thumb in the rear of the weapon. The recoil upon firing could result in personal injury.

Fist Grip

Grip the weapon as with the one-hand grip. Firmly close the fingers of the nonfiring hand over the fingers of the firing hand, ensuring that the index finger from the nonfiring hand is between the middle finger of the firing hand and the trigger guard. Place the nonfiring thumb alongside the firing thumb. NOTE: Depending upon the individual firer, he may chose to place the index finger of his nonfiring hand on the front of the trigger guard since M9 and M11 pistols have a recurved trigger guard designed for this purpose.

Palm Supported Grip

This grip is commonly called the cup and saucer grip. Grip the firing hand as with the one-hand grip. Place the nonfiring hand under the firing hand, wrapping the nonfiring fingers around the back of the firing hand. Place the nonfiring thumb over the middle finger of the firing hand.

Weaver Grip

Apply this grip the same as the fist grip. The only exception is that the nonfiring thumb is wrapped over the firing thumb.


The qualification course is fired from a standing, kneeling, or crouch position. During qualification and combat firing, soldiers must practice all of the firing positions described below so they become natural movements. Though these positions seem natural, practice sessions must be conducted to ensure the habitual attainment of correct firing positions. Practice in assuming correct firing positions ensures that soldiers can quickly assume these positions without a conscious effort. Pistol marksmanship requires a soldier to rapidly apply all the fundamentals at dangerously close targets while under stress. Assuming a proper position to allow for a steady aim is critical to survival.

NOTE: During combat, there may not be time for a soldier to assume a position that will allow him to establish his natural point of aim. Firing from a covered position may require the soldier to adapt his shooting stance to available cover.

Pistol-Ready Position

In the pistol-ready position, hold the weapon in the one-hand grip. Hold the upper arm close to the body and the forearm at about a 45-degree angle. Point the weapon toward target center as you move forward.

Standing Position without Support

Face the target. Place feet a comfortable distance apart, about shoulder width. Extend the firing arm and attain a two-hand grip. The wrist and elbow of the firing arm are locked and pointed toward target center. Keep the body straight with the shoulders slightly forward of the buttocks.

Kneeling Position

In the kneeling position, ground only your firing-side knee as the main support. Vertically place your firing-side foot, used as the main support, under your buttocks. Rest your body weight on the heel and toes. Rest your nonfiring arm just above the elbow on the knee not used as the main body support. Use the two-handed grip for firing. Extend the firing arm, and lock the firing-arm elbow and wrist to ensure solid arm control.

Crouch Position

Use the crouch position when surprise targets are engaged at close range. Place the body in a forward crouch (boxer's stance) with the knees bent slightly and trunk bent forward from the hips to give faster recovery from recoil. Place the feet naturally in a position that allows another step toward the target. Extend the weapon straight toward the target, and lock the wrist and elbow of the firing arm. It is important to consistently train with this position, since the body will automatically crouch under conditions of stress such as combat. It is also a faster position from which to change direction of fire.

Prone Position

Lie flat on the ground, facing the target. Extend your arms in front with the firing arm locked. (Your arms may have to be slightly unlocked for firing at high targets.) Rest the butt of the weapon on the ground for single, well-aimed shots. Wrap the fingers of the nonfiring hand around the fingers of the firing hand. Face forward. Keep your head down between your arms and behind the weapon as much as possible.

Standing Position with Support

Use available cover for support—for example, a tree or wall to stand behind. Stand behind a barricade with the firing side on line with the edge of the barricade. Place the knuckles of the nonfiring fist at eye level against the edge of the barricade. Lock the elbow and wrist of the firing arm. Move the foot on the nonfiring side forward until the toe of the boot touches the bottom of the barricade.

Kneeling Supported Position

Use available cover for support—for example, use a low wall, rocks, or vehicle. Place your firing-side knee on the ground. Bend the other knee and place the foot (nonfiring side) flat on the ground, pointing toward the target. Extend arms alongside and brace them against available cover. Lock the wrist and elbow of your firing arm. Place the nonfiring hand around the fist to support the firing arm. Rest the nonfiring arm just above the elbow on the nonfiring-side knee.

Mozambique Drill

The Mozambique Drill, also known as the Failure Drill, Failure to Stop drill, or informally, "two to the chest, one to the head," is a close-quarters shooting technique that requires the shooter to fire twice into the torso of a target (known as a double tap to center of mass), rapidly assess whether the target has been stopped, and follow up if necessary with a more difficult head shot that, if properly placed, will instantly kill.

Theory and technique

The Mozambique Drill is intended to ensure that the target is immediately stopped, by first placing two shots into the larger, easier-to-hit mass of the upper body, then, if the target is still active, following with a third, more precisely aimed and difficult head shot. Due to factors such as body armor, the bolstering effect of drugs, or failure to hit vital organs, the body shots may not be immediately effective, necessitating the third shot. To guarantee instant incapacitation by impacting the brain and central nervous system, the head shot must be delivered to the area between eyebrows and upper lip, otherwise, various bony areas of the skull could deflect the bullet.

From the Wikipedia entry for MOZAMBIQUE DRILL

Double Tap

A double tap is a shooting technique where two shots are fired in rapid succession at the same target with the same sight picture (different from the controlled pair, where a second sight picture is acquired for the second shot). Instruction and practice of the double-tap improves overall accuracy as shooters often do not have the gun fully extended on the first shot meaning the second of a double-tap is usually the better. The term hammer is sometimes used to describe a double tap in which the firearm's sights are not reacquired by the shooter between shots.


In the double-tap technique, after the first round is fired, the shooter quickly reacquires the sights for a fast second shot. This skill can be practiced by firing two shots at a time, taking time between the shots to reacquire the sights. With practice, the time between shots grows shorter and shorter until it seems to the observer as if the shooter is just pulling the trigger twice very quickly.

There is a natural arc of the front sight post after the round is fired and the recoil kicks in. The soldier lets the barrel go with this arc and immediately brings the front sight post back on target and takes a second shot. The soldier does not fight the recoil. In combat, soldiers shoot until the enemy goes down. For multiple targets, each target should receive a double tap.

From the Wikipedia entry for DOUBLE TAP

Palm Pistol

When you want your science-fictional sidearm to have that touch of the bizarre reminding the reader that they ain't in Kansas any more, palm pistols are startling abet impractical.

Instead of the weapon barrel positioned atop the user's fist as is conventional, it instead protrude from between the user's fingers. Either between the index (1st) and middle (2nd) finger, or between the middle (2nd) and ring (3rd) finger.

In the real world, such strange weapons are designed to be easily concealable or ergometric. The drawback is trying to fit the ammo and the firing mechanism in the palm of your hand.


The Protector Palm Pistol is a concealable design carrying seven .32 rimfire rounds in a "turret" rotary action. Since each bullet cannot be longer than the weapon's radius, each round was really short. Which means each round had the stopping power of a whiffle ball.

The trigger rested against the ball of the user's thumb, firing was by squeezing the weapon. Reloading was time-consuming since you had to dismantle the entire thing.

Apparently the barrel could protrude between either fingers 1 & 2 or 2 & 3. Barrel between 3 & 4 was possible but awkward.

The target demographic appeared to be for those wanting inconspicuous defense or assasins.


The Constitution Arms Palm Pistol™ is an ergometric design that only has a single .38 special round, contained in the barrel. The trigger is a button on the top, activated by the thumb.

According to the documention it can be held so that the barrel protrudes between any pair of adjacent fingers you wish. Just in case the user had to have a finger amputated for medical reasons or something. The company also maintains that having only a single shot is not a bug, it's a feature.

It is for for when Granny's arthritic hands aren't what they used to be. Or according to the company: It is an adaptive aid intended for seniors, disabled or others with grip limitations due to hand strength, manual dexterity or phalangeal amputations.


In the Genesis II movie the pacifists of PAX use tiny pneumatic pistols firing "PAXer" darts containing knockout drugs.

It appears that the barrel must protrude between fingers 1 & 2.

Needle Gun 1

      This was another one of those times when Bigman was glad he carried a needle-gun even in the face of Lucky's disapproval. Lucky considered it an unreliable weapon, as it was too hard to focus accurately, but Bigman would sooner doubt the fact that he was as tall as any six-footer as doubt his own skill. When Summers didn't turn at Bigman's shout, Bigman clenched his fist about the weapon (of which only half-inch of snout, narrowing to a needlepoint, showed between the second and third fingers of his right hand) and squeezed just tightly enough to activate it.
     Simultaneously there was a flash of light six inches in front of Summers' nose, and a slight pop. It was not very impressive. Only air molecules were being ionized. Summers jumped, however, and panic, transmitted by the V-frog, rose sharply.
     "Everybody," called Bigman. "Freeze! Freeze! You split-head, underlipped miseries." Another needle-gun discharge popped the air, this time over Summers' head where all could see it plainly.
     Few people might have handled needle-guns, which were expensive and hard to get licenses for, but every­body knew what a needle-gun discharge looked like, if only from subetheric programs, and everyone knew the damage it could do…
     …"Am I? You're a brave man, Summers, when you've got fifty against two. Let's see you stay brave against a needle-gun. They're hard to aim, of course, and I might miss."
     He clenched his fist again, and this time the pop of the discharge was sharply ear-splitting and the flash dazzled all the spectators but Bigman, who, of them all, was the only one who knew exactly when to close his eyes for a moment.
     Summers emitted a strangled yell. He was untouched except that the top button on his shirt was gone.

Needle Gun 2

      The area before Devoure's offices was wide and bathed in the artificial light that reproduced Sirius's faintly bluish tinge. Bigman stood alone in the center, and at a hundred yards' distance were five robots. Others were approaching from another direction.
     "Come and get that," roared Devoure, gesturing to the nearer robots and pointing to Bigman.
     "They won't come any closer," roared back Bigman. "If they make a move toward me I shall burn your heart out of your chest, and they know I'll do it. At least they can't take the chance I won't." He stood there easily, mockingly.
     Devoure flushed and lifted his blaster.
     Bigman said, "Now don't hurt yourself with that blaster. You're holding it a little close to your body."
     His right elbow was resting in the palm of his left hand. His right fist squeezed gently as he spoke, and from the muzzle of the needle gun just protruding from between second and third fingers, a jet of deuterium pulsed out under the guidance of a momentarily established magnetic field. It took skill of the highest order to adjust the squeeze and thumb position correctly, but Bigman had that. No man in the system had more.
     The muzzle tip of Devoure's blaster was a tiny white spark, and Devoure yelled his surprise and dropped it.

From LUCKY STARR AND THE RINGS OF SATURN, by Isaac Asimov (1958)


In 1910, the U.S. Army adopted the classic "web belt", including grommets to allow holsters and other equipment to be attached. Variations on this were in use up to about 1997.

As befitting an interstellar desperado, Han Solo has a quick-draw holster for his blaster. Note how the blaster is slung low, so the butt of the blaster is level with his hand.

The crew of the Starship Enterprise did not need holsters. Their phasers would stick to their hips by virtue of the "magnatomic adhesion areas" on the pistol grip (apparently some kind of high-tech velcro).

The valiant crew of the Space Battleship Yamato use "cross-draw" holsters. The butt of the cosmogun (this was anglicized to "astro-automatic" in the English translation) juts forwards, instead of backwards as is conventional. While this does make an interesting visual metaphor (making the butt look like the hilt of a samurai sword) in practice a cross-draw has problems. A quick draw from a cross-draw holster will be much slower than from a conventional holster, and as the sidearm is swung to the target, the barrel will sweep across innocent bystanders. It is also easier for an assailant at close quarters to prevent you from drawing your weapon. About the only advantages are that it is easier to draw if: you are sitting down, in a fighter plane cockpit, or if the weapon is covered by a coat or other article of clothing.

In the original Battlestar Galactica, the weapon holster was a cylinder with a slot down the side, constructed of something springy. The laser pistol could be extracted from the holster by pulling it sideways out of the spring grip. Personally I always thought that it would make more sense to have the slot in the front instead of the side. This would allow the weapon to be extracted and swung up to firing position in one motion, instead of two (pull to the left then raise upward).

Trigger Guard

A handgun for vacuum use will require an over-sized trigger guard to accept a space suited finger. András Bónitz mentions that many pistols today have large trigger-guards for gloved hands. However, a space suited finger is huge compared to a gloved finger. Weapons that are intended for use in extreme cold climates sometimes are fitted with an "arctic trigger guard." This is a guard that can momentarily swivel out of the way or be unbolted and set to "arctic mode" to accommodate gloved hands.

Gun Sight

As you all know a gunsight is a gadget used to aim the gun so it shoots your opponent.

Iron sights work pretty well in the science fiction future (or at least as well as they do in the real word). But telescopic sights have a problem.

Unlike iron sights, a telescopic sight has, well, a telescope. Ordinary telescopes have one place one's eye on the eyepiece, but weapon recoil makes that a very bad idea on a telescopic aimsight. You'll have to have the telescope surgically removed from your eye. To avoid that unhappy state of affairs, such sights have "eye relief". The scope is designed so the shooter can have their eye at a safe standoff distance from the eyepiece.

The trouble is that the eye relief is generally from 25 mm to 100 mm. The trouble is that a space suit with a fishbowl helmet has a much longer distance from one's eyes and the surface of the fishbowl. Not that you can place the surface of the fishbowl on the eyepiece. The weapon recoil will hammer the scope into the helmet and shatter it like an incandescent light bulb (unless it is a no-recoil laser or particle beam weapon. Or a gyrojet weapon).

But the basic problem is you cannot easily use a telescopic sight with a space helmet.

Possible low-tech solutions include:

A more high-tech solution is using a camera. The old Sero EOP system consists of a head mounted monitor and a light weight CCD camera attached to the weapon. That was designed to cope with the drawbacks of the .50 BMG, which had such a brutal recoil that it would break your shoulder. Since you had to fire it from the hip or braced on a wall you really couldn't use the iron sights. The EOP let you aim the blasted thing.

The EOP had a little video screen mounted above one eye, but for our purposes it could be replaced by a sizable video screen mounted on the weapon, say the size of a smartphone. This would be usable by somebody wearing a space helmet.

This would be even easier with laser weapons. You do not have to add a camera, you can actually use the same optics utilized by the laser weapon. This would make the laser weapon act like an old fashioned reflex camera.

If you want to go real high tech, instead of sending the camera aiming image to a video screen, project it on the inside of the space helmet as a heads-up display. Something like Iron Man but slightly less elaborate.


(ed note: In 2039, the U.S. Marines are in combat with U.N. forces on Mars. Technically Mars has an atmosphere, but practically you need to wear space suits because the air is just silly millimeter away from vacuum.)

The figure in the lock was aiming an assault rifle at Groller. It took Kaminski a frozen instant to realize that the guy was firing the rifle; he could see the rapid flicker of the muzzle flash, could see him struggle with the weapon’s climb as he loosed a burst at Groller’s back on full auto.

Kaminski broke into a clumsy run, unslinging his ATAR M-29 (advanced technology assault rifle) as he surged forward through loose sand. In the cold, the upper layers of the sand tended to freeze, the grains sticking together in a brittle crust, and each step was an unsteady stride-lurch as the crust broke beneath his boots.

Amazingly, the gunman appeared to have missed his target; Kaminski didn’t know where that stream of rapid-fire lead had gone, but it had apparently sailed past the unsuspecting Groller without coming near enough to hit him. He remembered the problems the Marines had had on the firing range; maybe the gunman was having difficulty with the local gravity as well. Kaminski came to a clumsy halt, raised his ATAR, and sighted in on the gunman.

Directly aiming a rifle in a space suit is next to impossible, if for no other reason than that you can’t get your eye close to the rear sight. The M-29, however, used a video low-light scan system that picked up the target picture through a camera lens mounted on the rifle’s back and fed the magnified image to the rifleman’s helmet electronics. In the green glow of his HUD’s image feed, he could see only that the target was wearing UN armor and seemed to be trying to brace himself against the open airlock’s seal for another shot. The laser rangefinder gave him a range of 243.6 meters. He dragged the crosshairs over the target…then cursed as the man ducked back out of sight.

From SEMPER MARS by Ian Douglas aka William H. Keith, Jr. (1998)



With a reaction built in from hundreds of hours of practice, Lt. Larry McQueen thought the gun into his hand.

To one practiced in the fast draw, this is enough to trigger the reflexes needed. The holster used by the Solarian Patrol finished functionality evolving hundreds of years previously. It was a hard piece of leather, rigidly attached to the wide belt so it would not bend, twist or flop when the gun was drawn; of hard leather so the gun to which it was fitted would not bind or stick. Across the top of the holster was a strap of leather connected to the side of the holster with a snap. The strap prevented the gun from falling out of the holster or being removed without the owner's knowledge. The end of the strap being curved out instead of flat against the side, indicated to those who knew the difference between an officer familiar with his weapon and one who was not.

In the fast draw the heel of the hand comes up along the side of the holster, striking the curved arc of leather, releasing the snap and moving it out of the way. The fingers take hold of the butt of the gun, moving it clear of the holster and turning it ready for firing. As the gun points, the thumb snaps off the safety and the gun fires. The whole operation takes considerably less than 200 milliseconds from intent to execution. The sequence of movements is automatic, since there is no time to think out any one of them.

More than one person has, under pressure, shot a hole in his foot because he didn't have the sequence under control. Others, thinking themselves able to draw like lightening, were dead because they tried to outdraw someone who had them covered.

From NEW LENSMAN by William Ellern

The colonist on the planet Pyrrus have the ultimate quick draw in a gadget called the "power-holster." The holster is strapped to your forearm. When you arrange your hand in "holding-a-pistol" posture, a mechanical actuator slams the gun out of the holster and into your hand.


"Every gun is fitted to its owner and would be useless on anyone else," Brucco said. "I'll show you why." He led Jason to an armory jammed with deadly weapons. "Put your arm in this while I make the adjustments."

It was a box-like machine with a pistol grip on the side. Jason clutched the grip and rested his elbow on a metal loop. Brucco fixed pointers that touched his arm, then copied the results from the meters. Reading the figures from his list, he selected various components from bins and quickly assembled a power holster and gun. With the holster strapped to his forearm and the gun in his hand, Jason noticed for the first time they were connected by a flexible cable. The gun fitted his hand perfectly.

"This is the secret of the power holster," Brucco said, tapping the flexible cable. "It is perfectly loose while you are using the weapon. But when you want it returned to the holster-" Brucco made an adjustment and the cable became a stiff rod that whipped the gun from Jason's hand and suspended it in midair.

"Then the return." The rod cable whirred and snapped the gun back into the holster. "The drawing action is the opposite of this, of course."

"A great gadget," Jason said. "But how do I draw? Do I whistle or something for the gun to pop out?"

"No, it is not sonic control," Brucco answered with a sober face. "It is much more precise than that. Here, take your left hand and grasp an imaginary gunbutt. Tense your trigger finger. Do you notice the pattern of the tendons in the wrist? Sensitive actuators touch the tendons in your right wrist. They ignore all patterns except the one that says hand ready to receive gun. After a time the mechanism becomes completely automatic. When you want the gun, it is in your hand. When you don't, it is in the holster."

Jason made grasping motions with his right hand, crooked his index finger. There was a sudden, smashing pain against his hand and a loud roar. The gun was in his hand-half the fingers were numb-and smoke curled up from the barrel.

"Of course, there are only blank charges in the gun until you learn control. Guns are always loaded. There is no safety. Notice the lack of a trigger guard. That enables you to bend your trigger finger a slight bit more when drawing so the gun will fire the instant it touches your hand."

It was without doubt the most murderous weapon Jason had ever handled, as well as being the hardest to manage. Working against the muscle burning ache of high gravity, he fought to control the devilish device. It had an infuriating way of vanishing into the holster just as he was about to pull the trigger. Even worse was the tendency to leap out before he was quite ready. The gun went to the position where his hand should be. If the fingers weren't correctly placed, they were crashed aside. Jason only stopped the practice when his entire hand was one livid bruise.

Complete mastery would come with time, but he could already understand why the Pyrrans never removed their guns. It would be like removing a part of your own body. The movement of gun from holster to hand was too fast for him to detect. It was certainly faster than the neural current that shaped the hand into the gun-holding position. For all apparent purposes it was like having a lightning bolt in your fingertip. Point the finger and blam, there's the explosion.

From DEATHWORLD by Harry Harrison


There are a few science fiction stories where the futuristic societies allow people to settle their differences by a duel to the death. This does looks suspiciously like the old Showdown at High Noon trope common to old cowboy westerns. And there are online forum flamewars that have been raging for decades over that single quote in Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon: "An armed society is a polite society."

Romance of the cowboy western aside, there is evidence that this simply is not the case. Logically in an armed society, a person who is sufficiently talented as a gunslinger can be just as impolite as they want. In cave man times the person with the strongest fist could be a rude bully, which didn't change when the fist was superseded by the club, the club by the sword, and the sword by the gun. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The joke on 1d4chan is God made men, Sam Colt made them equal, and John Browning made them civilized.

In any event, even when dueling is legal, there are strict rules to follow. The rules may be different in a given science fiction novel, but some sort of rule set will exist. Otherwise it is the functional equivalent of an illegal shoot-out between rival gangs.


      "Me? Shucks, no. I'm one long joke on myself. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. But look—the other thing I came to see you about. Notice my new sidearm?"
     Monroe-Alpha glanced at Hamilton's holster. In fact, he had not noticed that his friend was bearing anything new in the way of weapons-had he arrived unarmed Monroe-Alpha would have noticed it, naturally, but he was not particularly observant about such matters, and could easily have spent two hours with a man and never noticed whether he was wearing a Stokes coagulator or a common needlebeam.
     But, now that his attention was directed to the matter, he saw at once that Hamilton was armed with something novel…and deucedly odd and uncouth. "What is it?" he asked.
     "Ah!" Hamilton drew the sidearm clear and handed it to his host. "Woops! Wait a moment. You don't know how to handle it—you'll blow your head off. " He pressed a stud on the side of the grip, and let a long flat container slide out into his palm. "There—I've pulled its teeth (no, you haven't. You also have to check that there is no round in the chamber). Ever see anything like it?"
     Monroe-Alpha examined the machine. "Why, yes, I believe so. It's a museum piece, isn't it? An explosive-type hand weapon?"
     "Right and wrong. It's mill new, but it's a facsimile of one in the Smithsonian Institution collection. It's called a point forty-five Colt automatic pistol."
     "Point forty-five what?"
     "Inches…let me see, what is that in centimeters?"
     "Huh? Let's see—three inches make a yard and a yard is about one meter. No, that can't be right. Never mind, it means the size of the slug it throws. Here…look at one." He slid one free of the clip. "Damn near as big as my thumb, isn't it?"
     "Explodes on impact, I suppose."
     "No. It just drills its way in."
     "That doesn't sound very efficient."
     "Brother, you'd be amazed. It'll blast a hole in a man big enough to throw a dog through."
Monroe-Alpha handed it back. "And in the meantime your opponent has ended your troubles with a beam that acts a thousand times as fast. Chemical processes are slow, Felix."
     "Not that slow. The real loss of time is in the operator. Half the gunfighters running around loose chop into their target with the beam already hot. They haven't the skill to make a fast sight. You can stop 'em with this, if you've a fast wrist. I'll show you. Got something around here we can shoot at?"
     "Mmm…this is hardly the place for target practice."
     "Relax. I want something I can knock out of the way with the slug, while you try to burn it. How about this?" Hamilton picked up a large ornamental plastic paperweight from Monroe-Alpha's desk.
     "Well…I guess so."
     "Fine." Hamilton took it, removed a vase of flowers from a stand on the far side of the room, and set the target in its place. "We'll face it, standing about the same distance away. I'll watch for you to start to draw, as if we really meant action. Then I'll try to knock it off the stand before you can burn it."
     Monroe-Alpha took his place with lively interest. He fancied himself as a gunman, although he realized that his friend was faster. This might be, he thought, the split second advantage he needed. "I'm ready."
     Monroe-Alpha started his draw.
     There followed a single CRACK! so violent that it could be felt through the skin and in the nostrils, as well as heard. Piled on top of it came the burbling Sring-ow-ow! as the bullet ricocheted around the room, and then a ringing silence.
     "Hell and breakfast, " remarked Hamilton. "Sorry, Cliff—I never fired it indoors before." He stepped forward to where the target had been. "Let's see how we made out. "
     The plastic was all over the room. It was difficult to find a shard large enough to show the outer polish. "It's going to be hard to tell whether you burned it, or not."
     "I didn't."
     "That noise—it startled me. I never fired."
     "Really? Say, that's great. I see I hadn't half realized the advantages of this gadget. It's a psychological weapon, Cliff."
     "It's noisy."
     "It's more than that. It's a terror weapon. You wouldn't even have to hit with your first shot. Your man would be so startled you'd have time to get him with the second shot. And that isn't all. Think…the braves around town are used to putting a man to sleep with a bolt that doesn't even muss his hair. This thing's bloody. You saw what happened to that piece of vitrolith. Think what a man's face will look like after it stops one of those slugs. Why a necrocosmetician would have to use a stereosculp to produce a reasonable facsimile for his friends to admire. Who wants to stand up to that kind of fire?"

     "Pick it up in your fingers, and crack the shell." Monroe-Alpha attempted to comply, somewhat clumsily, but the greasy, hard surface skidded between his fingers. He attempted to recover and knocked it over the edge of the balcony rail at his elbow.
     He started to rise; Hamilton put a hand on his forearm. "My fault, " he said. "I will repair it." He stood up and looked down at the table directly beneath their booth.
     He did not see the stray bit of seafood at once, but he had no difficulty in telling approximately where it had landed. Seated at the table was a party of eight. Two of them were elderly men who wore the brassards-of-peace. Four women alternated with the males around the table. One of them, quite young and pretty, was dabbing at something which seemed to have stained her gown. The wayward crab leg was floating in a crystal bell of purple liquid directly in front of her; cause and effect were easy to infer.
     The two remaining men were both armed, both standing, and staring up at the balcony. The younger, a slender youth in bright scarlet promenade dress, resting his right hand on the grip of his sidearm, seemed about to speak. The older man turned coldly dangerous eyes from Hamilton to his youthful companion. "My privilege, Cyril, " he said quietly, "if you please."
     The young brave was clearly annoyed and reluctant to comply; nevertheless he bowed stiffly and sat down. His elder returned the bow punctiliously and turned back to Hamilton. The lace of his cuff brushed his holster, but he had not touched his weapon—as yet.
     Hamilton leaned over the balcony, both his hands spread and plainly visible on the rail. "Sir, my clumsiness has disturbed the pleasure of your meal and invaded your privacy. I am deeply sorry."
     "I have your assurance that it was accidental, sir?" The man's eyes were still frosty, but he made no move to draw. But he did not sit down.
     "You have indeed, sir, and with it my humble apology. Will you graciously permit me to make reparation?"
     The other glanced down, not at the youth, but at the girl whose gown had been splashed. She shrugged. He answered Hamilton, "The thought is taken for the deed, sir."
     "Sir, you leave me indebted."
     "Not at all, sir."

     They were exchanging bows and were about to resume their seats, when a shouted remark from the balcony booth directly opposite interrupted them. "Where's your brassard?"
     They both looked toward the source of the disturbance; one of a party of men—armed citizens all apparently, for no brassards were to be seen—was leaning out of the booth and staring with deliberate rudeness. Hamilton spoke to the man at the table below. "My privilege, is it not, sir?"
     "Your privilege. I wish you well." He sat down and turned his attention back to his guests.
     "You spoke to me?" asked Hamilton of the man across the ring.
     "I did. You were let off lightly. You should eat at home—if you have a home. Not in the presence of gentlefolk."
     Monroe-Alpha touched Hamilton's arm. "He's drunk, " he whispered. "Take it easy."
     "I know, " his friend answered in a barely audible aside, "but he gives me no choice."
     "Perhaps his friends will take care of him."
     "We'll see."
     Indeed his friends were attempting to. One of them placed a restraining hand on his weapon arm, but he shook him off. He was playing to a gallery—the entire restaurant was quiet now, the diners ostentatiously paying no attention, a pose contrary to fact. "Answer me!" he demanded.
     "I will, " Hamilton stated quietly. "You have been drinking and are not responsible. Your friends should disarm you and place a brassard on you. Else some short-tempered gentleman may fail to note that your manners were poured from a bottle."
     There was a stir and a whispered consultation in the party behind the other man, as if some agreed with Hamilton's estimate of the situation. One of them spoke urgently to the belligerent one, but he ignored it.
     "What's that about my manners, you misplanned mistake?"
     "Your manners, " Hamilton stated, "are as thick as your tongue. You are a disgrace to the gun you wear."
     The other man drew too fast, but he drew high, apparently with the intention of chopping down.
     The terrific explosion of the Colt forty-five brought every armed man in the place to his feet, sidearm clear, eyes wary, ready for action. But the action was all over. A woman laughed, shortly and shrilly. The sound broke the tension for everyone. Men relaxed, weapons went back to belts, seats were resumed with apologetic shrugs. The diners went back to their own affairs with the careful indifference to other people's business of the urbane sophisticate.
     Hamilton's antagonist was half supported by the arms of his friends. He seemed utterly surprised and completely sobered. There was a hole in his chemise near his right shoulder from which a wet dark stain was spreading. One of the men holding him up waved to Hamilton with his free arm, palm out. Hamilton acknowledged the capitulation with the same gesture.

     The presence of some types held obvious explanations. The occasional man with a brassard was almost certainly out at this hour because his business required him to be. The same rule applied without exception to the few armed men who also wore brassards—proclaiming thereby their unique status as police monitors, armed but immune to attack.

     Hamilton chewed his lip. "I say…you'll pardon me…but isn't it indiscreet for a man who does no fighting to appear in public armed?"
     Mordan smiled. "You misconstrue. Watch." He indicated the far wall. It was partly covered with a geometrical pattern, consisting of small circles, all the same size and set close together. Each circle had a small dot exactly in the center.
     Mordan drew his weapon with easy swiftness, coming up, not down, on his target. His gun seemed simply to check itself at the top of its swing, before he returned it to his holster.
     A light puff of smoke drifted up the face of the wall. There were three new circles, arranged in tangent trefoil. In the center of each was a small dot.

     "But dammit! How can there be any progress if we don't break customs?"
     "Don't break them—avoid them. Take them into your considerations, examine how they work, and make them serve you. You don't need to disarm yourself to stay out of fights. If you did you would get into fights—I know you!—the way Smith did. An armed man need not fight. I haven't drawn my gun for more years than I can remember."
     "Come to think about it, I haven't pulled mine in four years or more."
     "That's the idea. But don't assume that the custom of going armed is useless. Customs always have a reason behind them, sometimes good, sometimes bad. This is a good one."
     "Why do you say that? I used to think so, but I have my doubts now."
     "Well, in the first place an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization. That's a personal evaluation only. But gun-fighting has a strong biological use. We do not have enough things to kill off the weak and the stupid these days. But to stay alive as an armed citizen a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both. It's a good thing.

(ed note: this is the old argument that since technology has brought the end of natural selection we had better institute some type of artificial selection. The novel does mention genetic screening, but the legal dueling law appears to be a societal function to actually kill the quote "unfit" unquote. The question is: does this process select for the traits you really want?)

     "Of course," he continued, "our combativeness has to do with our ancestry and our history." Hamilton nodded; he knew that Mordan referred to the Second Genetic War. "But we have preserved that inheritance intentionally. The Planners would not stop the wearing of arms if they could."
     "Maybe so," Felix answered slowly, "but it does seem like there ought to be a better way to do it. This way is pretty sloppy. Sometimes the bystanders get burned."
     "The alert ones don't," Mordan pointed out. "But don't expect human institutions to be efficient. They never have been; it is a mistake to think that they can be made so—in this millennium or the next."

From BEYOND THIS HORIZON by Robert Heinlein (1948)

The patient tried to turn his head to look at Devlin, despite the fact that it was physiologically impossible for the human neck to travel through one hundred and eighty degrees. He sounded very angry as he said, “Are you suggesting that I’m some kind of Maxer? Listen, Doctor. You belong to one of the few professions that don't wear the belt and don’t suffer loss of status by not wearing it. But that does not give you the right to insult—”

Devlin, who was putting the finishing touches to the dressing, paused to put his hand on the other’s shoulder. He said seriously, “I did not mean to insult you and I unreservedly apologize. But I had an old man, too and for a while there I was talking just like him. And I agree with you about mixed affairswomen are neither physically nor temperamentally suited to fighting death duels with men (Mr. White, that is so last century!)—and I think you behaved as a responsible citizen should. I also agree that men should wear the trousers, but I disagree with the idea that the proper way to hold them up is by wearing a gun belt.

The patient was silent for a few minutes, and the color of his neck and ears became a less angry shade of pink. He said, “Your apology, is accepted without loss of honor by either side.” Less formally, he went on, “Some of us have to wear belts, Doctor. As a salesman I must wear one to talk to armed executive-level people that I have to do business with. If I went dressed like a sheep they wouldn’t let me in to talk at all. At the same time, if I went in with too many studs on my belt they would think that I was the touchy kind who would as soon fight as sell, or the type who sells by intimidation, and I wouldn’t get many more appointments.

“I don’t want a belt loaded with studs, anyway,” he ended. “People are too touchy about their honor these days.”

“No need to apologize,” said Devlin, holding up his hand. “If you stop to think for a minute you’ll realize that I prefer people to talk their way out of trouble—it makes less work for me. As for the wound itself, come back in three days unless it begins to feel hot. And rest—don’t do anything more energetic than watching television for at least a week. After you are back on your feet, wear a wound disk on your belt at least a month.”

He had only one private visit to make that day. It was on the edge of the city more than seven miles away and, although he did not like the thought of a round trip of fifteen miles, he had to take some risks if he were to build up a private practice. The high-density central areas provided resident medics for each block of apartments, but it was listed as an essential service covered by the rental and the salary of the doctor concerned was not high.

Private patients occupied family dwellings rather than living in two-thousand-room apartment buildings, and they had to be very rich or very brave or very well liked to be able to survive at all in such small defensive units. The Bennetts were an unusual combination, Devlin had discovered during his two earlier visits, they were both rich and well liked.

Before leaving his office he called city security to check on route safety and found there was only one major trouble spot between his block and the Bennett home. Two large rival bands of Maxer mercenaries had started a shoot-out in the early hours at a shopping complex about four miles away. Casualties were reported to be heavy and ambulances were standing by, but they could not go in because of the danger of their being hijacked and used by the combatants as armored personnel carriers—APC’s. City security forces could not go in because the situation was complicated by pockets of property-owners and members of their night staffs who were trying to defend various buildings against both Maxer factions, and the forces were being used merely to contain the trouble until it burned itself out. People with business in the area were advised to stay clear for at least three hours unless equipped with vehicles possessing overall armor and gas-filtration apparatus.

Devlin mentally plotted a course which would skirt the trouble spot, grabbed his bag and headed for the elevator.

The laugh and the tone sounded so odd that Devlin glanced aside from his periscope, and when he looked back there was a car nosing out of a side street. He braked hard, skidded, but stopped broadside on to the other car without hitting it. A large, fat man wearing a belt got out of the car. Devlin muttered under his breath and prepared to do some serious apologizing.

“This was my fault, Doctor,” said Brother Howard, climbing out on the other side. “I distracted you.”

They stood together for several minutes while the other driver told them what he thought of their stupidity at not looking where they were going. If they had been wearing gun belts, the other driver would have been in the wrong but, as things were, sheep were never in the right.

Devlin was used to this kind of thing and so, no doubt, was the Brother. No actual damage had been done, and the tongue-lashing probably would not last for long because a line of vehicles was beginning to form. He amused himself by counting the number of times the fat man repeated himself and wondering if the if over-tight belt was upsetting the other’s digestion.

But a small crowd had gathered, including a boy of fourteen or fifteen who was also wearing a gun belt. It was plain that the things which the fat man was saying to the two sheep, or at least to the Brother, were beginning to embarrass the young citizen—so much so that he was about to join in.

Brother Howard had noticed the boy as well, Devlin saw, and seemed to be just as anxious as the Doctor was not to be the cause of an affair. The Brother stepped forward and held up his hand.

“Don’t you dare interrupt me, you stupid sheep,” said the fat man furiously. “Your profession will save your life but not your honor, if you ever had any. A sheep like you should be—”

“I prefer,” said the Brother quietly, “to be called a shepherd. In any case, the condition of sheep is a temporary one which can be ended at any time, for any desired period of time.” He swung around and walked to the boy. Very politely and correctly he said, “Pardon, Citizen. I would be obliged if you would lend me your belt.”

“But Reverend…” began the boy.

“I would be obliged if you would retain your weapon, Citizen, and lend me your belt.”

The fat man had paled when the Brother had turned wolf suddenly, and Devlin realized that he had probably been greatly relieved when two sheep had climbed out of the car a few minutes earlier. If a full, belt-wearing citizen had been driving, there would have been an affair on the spot with the possibility of the fat man being killed. There was, after all, an awful lot of him to aim at. Probably he was not very fast, either, and knew that he would have died unless he publicly accepted all blame for the near-accident. But relief had made him vicious rather than gracious, and now that he had the double relief of shooting at a suicidal maniac it was unlikely that he would be satisfied with inflicting a token wound.

“Excuse me, Citizen,” said Devlin desperately to the fat man. “My friend has had a very severe mental shock—a young boy who…”

“It is my considered opinion,” said Brother Howard, joining them again with his hands hanging very still below his empty, borrowed belt, “that you are self-indulgent in food and alcohol, vastly overweight, completely lacking in manners and the worst driver that I have ever seen. If you wish to dispute this opinion, be prepared to defend yourself.”

For an instant Devlin felt a wild hope that the fat man would pass out from a cerebral haemorrhage before he was able to draw. His face had gone an improbable plum color. But no, Devlin saw him begin to draw, very clearly. Less distinctly he saw the man’s gun wrist and nose broken, not necessarily in that order, by the blunt edges of two flesh-colored blades that had been the Brother’s hands. Clearly, because it was the last and slowest blow, he saw a set of stiffened fingers sink into the other’s diaphragm—a blow that would have been fatal but for the thick layer of adipose in the area.

Devlin brought a litter from his car and made the fat man as comfortable as possible while the Brother returned the boy’s belt. Judging from the conversation, he had gained a convert as well as a hero-worshipper.

Devlin wanted to say that he would look after his daughter for an hour or so and see her safely to her apartment, but that would have embarrassed them. A man without a belt was not considered capable of looking after anyone in this situation, and they would have been forced to tell him so.

Seriously, the Brother went on, “I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you are happy with things as they are, Doctor. But just how unhappy are you?”

“With things as they are?”

Brother Howard nodded. “As detailed a list as you can manage.”

Devlin began to laugh, then stopped, his amusement changing suddenly to irritation. He said, “There is a long list of things I'm unhappy about. Arming so-called responsible citizens before they have reached maturity, much less achieved a sense of responsibility. I don’t like the way the majority of these citizens treat the sheep, or the way,the Maxers overreact if someone so much as sneezes without using a tissue, or the way city security can’t seem to be able to keep the peace without waging total war on all and sundry. No, that isn’t quite fair to the security people, but it is pretty obvious they can’t trust anyone who is not another security man, and they don’t bother to hide that fact.

“Oh, I know that the citizens and Maxers started out with the highest possible motives,” Devlin went on angrily. “We were on the verge of anarchy and it was thought that sober and responsible citizens bearing arms would be able to curb the worst excesses—the wholesale muggings and murders and bombings. And the idea of maximum rather than minimum response to violent crime worked for a while, too. But then the citizens and the Maxers began looking for wrongs to right, and when they could no longer find even a minor wrong they…”

Devlin broke off, took a deep breath, and continued, “I don’t like the mass processing of patients and the complete depersonalization in present-day hospitals, or the lack of sympathy and the increasing loneliness that overcrowding brings. You have only to walk through a crowded rec hall at night to know what I mean.

“Curative treatment for these social ills should have started many generations ago,” Devlin went on bitterly. “I realize nothing can be done at this late date, but I don't have to like the situation. In my profession one is conditioned to dislike illness, I suppose, and I especially do not like the illness, the rot, which is afflicting society these days. The sickness goes through to the center and from the top to the bottom. There is no secure place, nothing to hold on to, nobody in authority who is fully trustworthy, nowhere to go that is any better. I’m generalizing, of course. There are bound to be some individuals or groups trying to do something, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule, and they will eventually go soft and rotten like the rest of us. Their psychiatrists or friends will explain the folly of remaining firm while everyone else is going loose. They will be given, or elect to take, one of the personality-change series that will chemically tailor their minds to fit happily into present-day society. Sheep into citizens or vice-versa with a couple of color-coded pills!”

From THE DREAM MILLENNIUM by James White (1974)

But that, too, was all right. He made his hands relax, savoring the thought of the gossip and sidelong glances his disgrace must have brought upon the noble Duke and treasuring the look on his father's face as his sword snapped (as he was court-martialed and expelled from the navy). All his life, his father had preached to him of duty and responsibility, of the glorious role his family had played in the history of the Kingdom. But duty and responsibility hadn't paid his debts. Family history hadn't won him the respect and fear it won the "true" line.

No, those things he had earned himself, earned on the "field of honor" while he laughed at their pretensions.

He opened his eyes once more, staring at his reflection in the com screen, remembering the dawn quiet and the weight of a pistol. Remembering the seconds and the master of the list's stern expression as he stared across thirty meters of smooth grass at a pale-faced opponent. It had been … Bullard? No. That first time had been Scott, and he shivered as his palm felt again the shock of recoil and Scott's white shirt blossomed crimson and he fell.

He shook himself. It had been a business transaction, nothing more, he told himself, and knew he lied. Oh, it had been business, and the money his secret sponsor had slipped him had cleared his debts … for a time. Until the next time. But the sensual thrill of knowing, even as Scott crumpled, that his bullet had blown his target's aristocratic heart apart—that had been his true reward. And the reason it had been so easy to accept the next assignment, and the next.

Yet in the end, the very people he hated with all his soul had won. "Professional duelist," they'd called him, when all the time they'd meant "paid killer." And they'd been right. He admitted that here in the quiet, empty room. But he'd killed too many of them, even when his sponsors would have been willing to settle for a wound. The blood taste had been too sweet, the aura of fear too heady, and finally the Corps had had enough.

He'd killed a "brother officer"—as if the uniform a dead man wore should matter! He wasn't the first serving officer to do so, but there were too many bodies in his past, too many families that owed too many debts. They couldn't try him for murder, for duels were legal. He'd faced his opponent's fire, and they couldn't prove he'd accepted money for it. But they'd all known the truth, and they could bring up his entire record: his gambling, his women, the adulterous affairs he'd used to lure targets onto the field, the arrogance he'd let color his relations with senior officers as the terror of his reputation grew. And that had been enough to find him "unfit to wear the Queen's uniform" and led to that bright, hot morning and the slow, degrading tap of the drums.

And it had led here, as well. Here where the money was good, but even here the money was only part of it. Only the means to an end that let him sneer at their self-proclaimed nobility of purpose and avenge himself upon them again and again, even if they never knew it.

From ON BASILISK STATION by David Weber (1993)

      Emil had been fumbling in the back. Now he pressed something into my hand and said, "Here, take this." To my amazement I found myself holding a sonic stunner.
     "That's illegal!" I whispered furiously.
     "Why are you whispering? Kidnapping Kdatlyno is illegal, too. We may be glad we've got these before we're finished."
     "But where did you get police stunners?"
     "Let's say some criminal slipped them into my luggage. And if you'll look at the butts, you'll see they aren't police stunners."
     They'd started life as police stunners, but they weren't anymore. The butts were hand-carved from big cultured emeralds. Expensive. Dueling pistols?
     Sure, dueling pistols. Lose a duel with one of these and you'd lose nothing but face. I hear most Jinxians would rather lose an arm, permanently. They were not illegal — on Jinx.

     Too bad the dueling pistols didn't have more power. The craftsmen who had carved their emerald butts had scaled them down because, after all, they would be used only to prove a point. It would take a shopful of tools to readjust them, because readjusting them to their former power would violate Jinxian law. Real police stunners will knock a man out for twelve hours or more.

From GRENDEL by Larry Niven (1968)

(ed note: this is about dueling with swords, not firearms. But the same principles apply)

      “Perhaps I know less about it than you think. I know that you and he were bitter enemies as students at the Imperial University, that you thought he deliberately tried to excel you and defeat you in campus competitions. After graduation everyone seemed to think his researches were a shade more brilliant than yours. Somewhere along about then there was something about a duel, wasn’t there?”

     It had always struck Keiris a little odd that dueling had come back, complete with deadly weapons and a rigid etiquette, to a civilization so coldly scientific as the present one. Of course, it had been rationalized by many. The official attitude was one of resignation; there were laws against it, naturally, but what could the government do when the people themselves persisted in the ridiculous practice? Underneath that legal attitude, however, Keiris knew that it was secretly encouraged. She had heard many officials openly boast of their duels and explain smugly that it was instilling a healthy, vigorous spirit into the aristocracy. The age of chivalry, they maintained, had returned. Yet beneath it all, rarely voiced by anyone, was the feeling that dueling was necessary for the preservation of the state. The Society of Thieves had brought back the sword as a basic instrument for survival—the last defense of the despots.

(ed note: the revolutionary underground group the Society of Thieves use a mental force field that protects against firearms but offers no protection from swords. Bringing back the sword as a basic instrument for survival)

     Keiris turned to Haze-Gaunt sitting stiffly in the chair next to her, his arms folded across his chest. “Tell me, Bern, frankly: Doesn’t it strike you that dueling nowadays is just a perverted sport? Hasn’t the honor in it been lost?” She kept her voice low, away from the ears of the others.

     He searched her with his hard, intelligent eyes to see if her questioning was serious. He found that it was; this was no attempt to irritate him.

     “Times have changed things,” he said. He decided to answer her flatly. “Yes, the traditions have been for the most part lost. The primary motivation is no longer one of ‘cowardice and courage.’ ”
     “Then it has degenerated into a mere barbaric rite.”
     “If it has, you can thank the Thieves for that.”
     “But was it ever more than that?”

     “It once commanded great respect.” He watched Thurmond and his opponent choosing their weapons. “Although dueling prevailed in antiquity, the modern private duel grew out of the judicial duel. In France in the sixteenth century it became very common after the famous famous challenge of Francis the First to his rival Charles the Fifth. After that every Frenchman seemed to think that he was called upon to use his sword in defending his honor against the slightest imputation.”

     “That was Europe, though,” Keiris insisted, “in the old days. This is America.”

     Haze-Gaunt continued to watch the two men preparing for their combat. He seemed to forget the woman beside him, his reply sounding more like a recital for his own benefit. “In no part of the world was dueling so earnestly engaged in as in America. Combats were held under all sorts of conditions, with every conceivable variety of weapon. And most of them were fatal. That’s what brought about laws which stamped it out until the establishment of the Imperium.” He turned to look at her. “It’s not remarkable that it has been revived.”

     “But now it has lost all moral respectability,” she said. “It’s just an invitation to legalized murder.”
     “We have laws,” he replied. “No one is forced to duel.”
     “Like that poor fellow,” said Keiris, pointing toward the center of the gym, and her black eyes flashed.

From FLIGHT INTO YESTERDAY by Charles Harness (1949)


The weapon pictured on the right originally was created by Kelly Freas for the cover of a Telzey Amberdon book. Model maker Ed Klein liked the picture enough to create an actual prop model (with working laser) as a gift for Mr. Freas. Model was used in the Kelly Freas cover of the audio version of Slan, and in the above illustration at the insistence of Sean Barrett. It was also used by Laura Freas for an interior illustration of The Left Hand of Darkness. Anybody with scans of any of these image is encouraged to contact the webmaster.

The man known as DWP informed me of the address of Ed Klein's website. On it, I found the following:

This pistol was inspired by a cover painted by Frank Kelly Freas in the 1960's for Analog Science Fiction. Ed made the gun and installed freon jets, a gas laser, and a sound effect and carried it as his showpiece for many years. In 1983, Ed gave it to Kelly for his birthday, and Kelly uses it to this day as a laser pointer when he lectures.

Ed Klein

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