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Here's the situation:

Mars has been colonized in the near future – tens or hundreds of thousands of people live on Mars. For political reasons, EarthGov is against sending weapons to Mars; and, they made it clear that if any resource they do send will be used to make weapons, then they will cut all ties to Mars — thus forcing Martian settlers to be self–reliant in that department.

Settlers live in colonies made of mostly underground compounds with some domed areas above ground.

Now, the question is this:
What sort of weapons can the settlers build for self–defense on Mars? No invasions or pirates from Earth or aliens to worry about... this is simply self–defense from other settlers when walking home late in a dark Martian tunnel. You can safely assume that, while the settlers can't use terrestrial resources, they are very clever scientists and engineers on their own with access to well–equipped labs and workshops: the only thing limiting them is what resources they can get on Mars.

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    $\begingroup$ Ummm, why worry about'other settlers' if there are no weapons? It is absolutely certain that it will be these 'other settlers' who FIRST get and use the weapons. A good security system backed up by an efficient legal system is the best defense. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Mar 11 '18 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with self-defense weapons is that the criminals know in advance they will need weapons and when they will need them. So self-defense weapons only make sense if weapons are already available to perps and you are balancing things. (Occupiers vs subjugated population.) In your case you should just blame lack of weapons on Earth and run with it. Just add some law enforcement. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 12 '18 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think the threat of being chucked out on the surface without a suit would be a suitable deterrent against crime. Or not letting people up without a psych evaluation in the first place. Unless your plot specifically revolves around people fighting each other in dark tunnels. (Why are they dark in the first place?) $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Mar 12 '18 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ @cypher - "this is simply self–defense from other settlers when walking home late in a dark Martian tunnel." Why don't they light the tunnels, or wear clip on flashlights while in the tunnels? So you assume everyone will have a separate house in the Martian towns? Maybe they will live in apartment buildings and walk home in brightly lit hallways. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 12 '18 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ What sort of society is this on Mars? Martian colonization won't be like the Wild West. It's a dangerous environment. Make a mistake there & you die. Sticking to the laws means surviving. Also, improved surveillance tech. See my comment to Vincent above. Colonists can be microchipped, if necessary. No crime without instantaneous detection. $\endgroup$ – a4android Mar 13 '18 at 1:06

12 Answers 12

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Feet. Hands.

savate http://petercorneliushoof.blogspot.com/2015/02/savate-martial-art-of-pirates.html

Savate is one of the martial arts where people fight without weapons - the unmodified body. It is interesting in that in addition to inanimate weapons (cudgels, knives), fists were counted as weapons, so the practicioners of this style had to work around that as well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savate

In the south, especially in the port of Marseille, sailors developed a fighting style involving high kicks and open-handed slaps. It is conjectured that this kicking style was developed in this way to allow the fighter to use a hand to hold onto something for balance on a rocking ship's deck, and that the kicks and slaps were used on land to avoid the legal penalties for using a closed fist, which was considered a deadly weapon under the law.

So too your martians. If weapons are illegal and penalties are stiff, Martians who want to fight will develop techniques of doing so without weapons.

I hope this is for a story. If ever there were a people with a birthright to martial arts, it is the Martians.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the martian arts. Lame jokes aside, it would actually make sense. The lower gravity would enable pretty spectacular moves and probably make some form of full body exercise a very good idea. (Not that it isn't even with gravity we evolved with.) $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 12 '18 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Ville Niemi - I did not even consider the low grav aspect / spectacular moves. Most excellent! $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 12 '18 at 2:20
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    $\begingroup$ "Martian Arts" will dominate over standard martial arts on Mars. The lower gravity would allow several "fantasy martial arts movie" moves but that's not what will be the advantage. the advantage is that the martians will have trained to work around the lower leverage they have. Their feet will slide more as they borrow force from the ground. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 12 '18 at 21:00
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this is simply self–defense from other settlers when walking home late in a dark Martian tunnel.

If you want to carry it at all times, then it will have to be small, lightweight and convenient, which rules out the huge air rifle. We can assume any weapon that is able to make a hole through the walls that keep the air inside the colony would be illegal, same for anything that would be able to break windows or domes, also Isaac's plasma cutter, etc.

Thus projectile weapons, or energy weapons powerful enough would be illegal. A shotgun with frangible rounds would not have this problem, but your question rules it out too.

First rule of gun control is that criminals don't abide by the law, so the only thing gun control achieves is make sure criminals are the only ones who are armed. In a space colony there would be a way to circumvent this somehow, if you filter out any wannabe criminal who would wish to join, and have cameras everywhere and swift justice to get rid of the ones who will slip in anyway. But since you ask this question, I'll assume you want some action to occur in your space colony...

Therefore, unless you only eat goop which has "everything the body needs"...

enter image description here

...then you will have to cook, and perhaps peel some potatoes like Matt Damon did, and therefore...

enter image description here

If knives are illegal, then your environment would be similar to a prison, and you would get Prison Shivs. This is "a bit of sharp stuff" with a handle.

enter image description here

In ye old times when common people were not allowed to own swords, they would carry tools and implements that would seem justifiable considering their profession. Think sickles, knives, hammers, stuff like that. In your space colony, maintenance will be necessary, so some people will carry Big Heavy Wrenches, or perhaps a length of pipe suitable to bash someone's face, or the timeless classic:

enter image description here

After all, everyone knows you never go through the airlock without a crowbar! In case it gets stuck on "vacuum".

Chemical weapons are always an option, although tear gas will not earn you brownie points, as it tends to get into the atmosphere processing unit and spread inside the whole base. Better use gel pepper spray.

Stun guns and other implements that make cool sparks could work, too. Tazers also. The local police is likely to carry stuff like that.

I would bet on knives, though.

Especially since space radiation mutated the plants in Hydroponics, and everyone was issued a machete. Those martian tentacled potatoes are nasty, man.

enter image description here

(source, LOL)

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for referencing 'justifiable tools'. Many iconic medieval-era weapons have their origins in tools which could be justifiably owned by the populace despite standing bans on military equipment. In more contemporary eras I've heard of people keeping baseball bats for self-defense, along with a baseball specifically so that it can be claimed as an innocent pastime rather than a weapon. No, officer, I need this big wrench for fixing inter-habitat pneumatic tubing, that's why I've got this arc welder too, see? $\endgroup$ – Catgut Mar 13 '18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ I would upvote this, but my answer is better! :-P $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 13 '18 at 21:57
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There is more than a precedent of governments forbidding the use/building of weapons to certain class of people.

See for example Tokugawa Japan, where only samurais were allowed to carry swords. This did not prevent monks to develop fighting, pardon, self-defense techniques based on all but swords.

Same can go with your settlers: a stick, a stone, a shovel, a fork, bare hands... basically anything can be used as a weapon once one has a proper training.

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Firearms. I don't see any reason why they would screw around with other technologies when the one that's tried and true for a couple centuries is trivial to make. A 3D printer can print out most of the required pieces, and a CNC machine can create the rest. You say they are clever and well equipped engineers, so 100 year old technology (the most common .45 handgun is called an M1911A for a reason) should be no problem for them.

Just don't use the metal sent from Earth, and they are not breaking any rules. If they want to doubly cover their bases, they first make their own CNC machines.

The alternative approach, of course, is to build a very big mass driver, to change their negotiating position with Earth...

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Air guns. Lower atmospheric pressure on mars would greatly extend the range and you only really have to puncture a suit to take an enemy out of the fight. Modern air rifles can approach power levels of regular fire arms but you wouldnt need to worry about the risky and complex business of manufacturing explosive propellants or take the risk of firing regular firearms in an oxygen rich artificial environment. Furthermore, you can adjust the power of you air rifles so that they only puncture suits and not habitat walls. All you really need to do is fashion a barrel, then attach a high-speed regulator valve and a high pressure CO2 tank to it and make sure the whole conglomeration is in the shape of a rifle.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ There s no such thing as 'Al you have to do is...". $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Mar 11 '18 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't change the fact that air rifles would be much much more readily produced than regular firearms, and much easier to produce ammunition for. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Mar 11 '18 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ And the fact is, that you have just started an arms escalation that will never stop. 'All you have to do is' develop a more powerful counter-weapon. Then 'all you have to do is' develop an even more powerful counter-counter weapon. And then 'all you have to do is' develop... well, you get the picture. 'All you have to do is' always leads to another 'all you have to do is'. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Mar 11 '18 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ Bipod mounted air rifles aren't so good for self defense "when walking home late in a dark Martian tunnel". Air pistols, OTOH... cabelas.com/category/Air-Pistols/105571080.uts $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 11 '18 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ Irrelevant. The question was plausible weapons that martian colonists could easily craft for self defense. This weapon fits that request. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Mar 11 '18 at 23:32
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The question you need to ask yourself is what is Earth sending in the way of resources?

Mars would be as self contained as humanly possible. Food would be grown hydroponically, metals smelted locally, water recycled.

Due to the large distance and the delay of maybe six months or more for delivery shipments and the cost of getting materials into space, very little would be exported to Mars once it was sustainable and if it wasn't sustainable, all efforts would be on making sustainable.

More than likely, the only things from Earth would be expensive luxuries and maybe a few tourists and of course new settlers.

The real trade would be information which only takes 15 minutes to arrive.

The restriction of weapons would be the proviso of the ruling class and governing and policing body on Mars because nobody on Earth really cares if two people in another country kill each other let alone another planet away.

If people live in domes and if there is vitally important life support equipment around, guns would be banned and possession would carry a death sentence. Even an accidental misfire could kill hundreds.

Weapons would be limited to tools so people had a valid reason to be walking around with them such as hammers or knives.

Real weapons that would worry Earth would be navies of spaceships and nukes. Earth would be more worried about Mars declaring independence......

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    $\begingroup$ "The restriction of weapons would be the proviso of the ruling class and governing and policing body on Mars because nobody on Earth really cares if two people in another country kill each other let alone another planet away." What if Earth is governed by an imperial government that views any independent government anywhere as a potential future enemy that must be conquered before it attacks. Thus Mars will be another province of the solar system government and thus to the people on Earth Mars will be part of their country or empire and the colonists will be fellow citizens. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 12 '18 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ Hence why I said they'd be more worried about Mars building spaceships and nukes. People on Earth don't really care about guns on Earth, let alone Mars. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 13 '18 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ I think my answer elaborated a scenario where Mars would be heavily depending on imports from Earth: like an Ultor Corp where the Martians are controlled for their labor. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 13 '18 at 21:54
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As I understand your premise, you're saying that Earth will react strongly if the Martians build weapons using materials imported from Earth, but don't care if the Martians build weapons using local materials. This seems rather implausible to me. If Earth wants to keep the Martians unarmed so that they can be kept under Earth's domination, why would they be unconcerned about making weapons from local resources?

In any case, what resources is Mars getting from Earth, and what resources are you assuming the Martians can find and exploit on Mars?

Presumably the Martians can easily make your classic melee weapons: Any stiff piece of wood or metal can serve as a club. They surely have the technology to sharpen a piece of metal and make a knife or a sword. They likely have heavy hand tools like big hammers, axes, picks, etc. A side advantage of weapons like this is that if caught with them, they can always say that they are tools and not weapons. I have a number of tools in my shed that would make good hand-to-hand weapons, but I didn't buy them to use as weapons, I bought them to do yard work and home repair.

Presumably if these people are running a functioning colony on Mars they have a fair amount of technical sophistication. There must be people who know or could figure out how to make guns and bullets, air guns as another poster suggested, rail guns, etc. Do they need Earth resources to do this? I really don't know what metals and chemicals are available on Mars. Well, there's iron, right?

If they can build large vehicles, however they're powered, they can surely put some extra layers of metal on them and some sort of weapon and make a tank.

Etc. I don't see much of a limit. Presumably in the very early days of a colony they don't have a lot of mining and industry, but I'd think this would be among the first things they'd try to get off the ground. Hauling bulk metals from Earth would be hugely expensive. It would make a lot of sense to get basic industry going on on Mars, and quickly get to the point where the only imports you need are high-tech goods.

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Thermite launchers? There is a good quantity of aluminium and iron oxide on Mars. A mixture of Propane and oxygen burns at a temperature of over 5000 F. The ammunition will consist of a thermite ball with a short magnesium ribbon sticking out. When the trigger is pressed, the propane-oxygen mixture ignites. The flame ignites the magnesium ribbon, and the expanding gases force the ball out at extreme speeds. Basically, a potato spud launcher, but with thermite. Propane is a common industrial fuel, and magnesium is often used in the steel manufacturing industry, which will be a prevalent one on Mars, due to large iron oxide deposits. If flash-bangs are required, the iron oxide can be replaced with copper oxide to make thermate. Thermate in a casing with a long fuse makes the perfect flash grenade. To make incendiary grenades, barium nitrate or any other oxidizer can be added to thermite.

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    $\begingroup$ I fail to see nerdist.com/dont-make-your-own-thermite-launcher as a self defense weapon, it's closer to a military grenade launcher then something a sane person would walk around with for "just in case" $\endgroup$ – cypher Mar 11 '18 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Aka a battlefield weapon to defend oneself from criminals... That was never the case in history. $\endgroup$ – skout Mar 11 '18 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ So, why would a thermite launcher be better than, for example, an ordinary CO2 pellet gun, or standard fire arm? This answer has been flagged as low quality: that's basically a request for a more in depth answer! It's an interesting choice, but as it stands, you don't really answer the question. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Mar 11 '18 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you could explain how they'd be able to appropriate the launcher from industrial equipment. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ You should add the information from your comment to the answer! That would give the OP some options along your line of resolution. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:25
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Sharp instruments. Knives, forks, etc.

Presumably your Martians are wearing spacesuits. Any sort of sharp object is a serious hazard to a soft spacesuit. Even hard-shell suits have lots of tearable material on them, otherwise it would be impossible to move around with any degree of flexibility.

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Seems like this is a game of hiding their capabilities from TerraGov or EarthGov or whatever.
Looks like you need a political answer more than material engineering one.

Support from homeworld will be cut if the Martian settlers show any evidence or misbehavior or ability to threaten Earth. Lack of support from Earth, and no further repercussions, says to me that the Martians would starve or asphyxiate or something else if they are deprived of support from Earth.

Ergo, Earth wants to be the ones to control the peacekeepers. Of course, an injured or dead Martian is a loss of productivity, so any effective peacekeepers would need to therefore have strict rules and curfews so as to prevent the Martians from doing dastardly deeds to other Martians.

A Martian therefore needs their own weapons only for these reasons in the category of self–defense — i.e. responding to a threat and not instigating one:

  • ineffective or blunderingly managed peacekeepers and Martian facilities.
  • disobeying curfew with no intent to engage in any actions that challenge peacekeeper auspices.
    I.e. you aren't planning an overthrow or building a garden which is not permitted, but maybe want to buy drugs or whatever is controlled or otherwise outlawed. Of course, this one is a morass of interpretation and predictions by the decree of judicial magistrates and local governors.
  • establishment of a black market syndicate.
    The peacekeepers — some of them — will be on the take unofficially, but officially they cannot support you or show any tolerance.

Optimal designs in these situations will differ drastically.

In the first one, the governors are equally unwilling to let EarthGov know about what they've allowed their population to do, and so you only need to hide from the governors.
Take what you can get, so long as it doesn't cause vital equipment to fail or peacekeepers to begin seriously oppressing you Martians. You might even be able to steal or appropriate a few peacekeeper weapons, but nothing big.

The second one is rather smaller scale. Maybe you just like exploring the Martian surface during lockdown; maybe you like a sizable snort of that Blue Dust now and again. Possession or theft or anything which the magistrates don't allow will attract undue attention, so your best bet would be to use old rubbish from your own allotments of equipment.
However, that depends on how strictly they manage recycling. Claiming that you keep losing things in unrecoverable places, or otherwise being a black hole for old equipment, would place you under the lens of the peacekeeper Detectives.

In the third, you have the most leeway — and you're gonna need it. Buying peacekeeper weapons would be the top of your game; you could do so initially on contract, but that's unlikely. You'd want to start from the bottom, but if you are bribing the peacekeepers then you'd have more access to materials than in the second scenario.
Components from airlocks, compactors, or even excavation equipment could be re–purposed for your weaponry.

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  • $\begingroup$ Who said anything about peacekeepers? or that they want to hide it from earthgov? the only thing that earth care about is that mars won't use the resources earth send them to create said self defense weapons, the question isn't how they hide it from earth - earth doesn't care about mars having self defense weapons, it's just unwilling to supply the materials to create them. the question is what weapons can be created using martian only resources. $\endgroup$ – cypher Mar 11 '18 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @cypher This is my take on your situation and what it would require. If it doesn't work, or if I misread, then downvote. However, be willing to consider that maybe my answer has some substance which you could take or adapt for your use. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 11 '18 at 18:02
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Traditional guns

Any engineer with access to a lathe... or just good quality pipe could whip up a workable shotgun:

Quality depends entirely on the engineer.

A very simple gun made from 2 bits of pipe and a nail: enter image description here

enter image description here enter image description here

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I hope this answer has some useful info as it edges more into the realm of sci-fi:

You could create "lightsabers" which could be in the form of extendble/retractable batons made of some stainless steel coated in a refractive coating that wouldn't melt because they refract the heat away from themselves, these coatings might be salvaged from worn out (future) vessels, rovers, etc.

Then wrapped around this baton there would be a bunch of electro lodes that would heat up the surrounding air to plasma, and within there would be a permanent magnet that creates a magnetic field to "pinch" the plasma so it forms a coherent blade, obviously there would be a cone shaped guard to protect your hand from plasma flow. They would be powered by some type of supercapacitors ensconsed in the blade's handle capable of quick charge and ability to discharge quickly, aka quickdraw.

I do not know how well these would work in mar's atmosphere, but theoretically they could slice through most metals, and if the heating process is pulsed somehow you could avoid the leidenfrost effect and cut faster. The blades would have mass allowing for balance and realistic sword combat. They could block other lightsabers, and if you run out of charge you have a club/baton to whack them with. And for real world use it could be used as a plasma torch for maintenace, and even cutting your way out of a damaged rover.

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  • $\begingroup$ i.m.h.o this seems to miss most of the parameters of the question. Repurposing plasma cutters is good, but how well could they be refit to act as sabers by the Martian colonists? Also, it really should make consideration of Martian environ. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 17 '18 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ Did you mean ‘reflect’ rather than “refract”? Unless this is actually radiation and not kinetic heat, probably better to describe it as ‘dissipation’. Cheers! $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 17 '18 at 14:32

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