In Destiny there are hand cannons, which are pretty high-caliber revolvers. In the context of other technology from there, is their hand cannon feasible, is it obsolete in favor of other small arms, or is there an alternative that does it better? Because the whole idea of space cowboys with big revolvers may be cool but I feel like it might not be reasonable for a story.

Edit for clarity: I mean to use Destiny as an example, not to clarify their already-existing story. Their hand cannons really are just big revolvers. Most reload by replacing the whole cylinder (no loading each round individually) and are semi-auto action. They have huge recoil, are not too accurate, and are pretty short range (<100 m) but hit very hard. Ammunition isn’t anything special from what I know (there are elemental variations but that’s not really relevant to the purpose and function of the guns).

The main point of my asking about this is that there are many other alternatives in the Destiny universe, like SMGs, rapid-fire handguns (sidearms), fully automatic rifles, etc. Everything is pretty high velocity, so penetration isn’t generally an issue. Is the straight-up hitting power of a high-caliber weapon really relevant when extremely high RoF weapons are in abundance too?

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    $\begingroup$ Are asking about a plot element of an already existing fictional story? Because if so you can better use the dedicated stack exchange. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 5 '18 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ @LDutch I think they're asking more about big, short-range handguns in general, and using Destiny as one example of what they're talking about. (Though it could use an edit to that effect if so.) $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jul 5 '18 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ I meant to use Destiny as an example, since afaik its hand cannons are pretty well-known. Should I clarify that? $\endgroup$ – VeganJoy Jul 5 '18 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ yes, better. Also, since not everybody is aware of what it is, give some details about it, too. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 5 '18 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think Destiny hand cannons are really huge, they look like fancier versions of real .44-.45 handguns. Which are valued primarily for their Stopping power. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 5 '18 at 20:12

The weapon suits the target.

Which weapons are "practical" or "best" in a given situation depends heavily on what they're used on. A shotgun full of birdshot is a perfectly practical weapon for shooting at birds, but not great for people and useless against buildings.

When firing at a single, unarmored human at short range, there's not much reason for guns to get bigger than they already are. A large-caliber handgun already can pack enough energy to incapacitate or kill pretty reliably across a broad range of impact locations. (Where you get shot is just as critical as how powerful a gun it is; smaller guns can totally kill people, even instantly, but need to be much more precise about it.)

There are three basic reasons to use a bigger projectile. One is longer range: though it may seem paradoxical at first, larger, heavier projectiles are (all else being equal) much more accurate at much longer ranges. However, handguns are not a very good form factor for long-range shooting; a proper longarm or even something like a bullpup design is more stable, easier to aim, and generally scales better at larger sizes. A handgun can only get so big before it gets unwieldy when actually used as a handgun.

The second reason is raw kinetic energy. As mentioned above, this isn't all that useful when shooting at unarmored people, but armored targets would be a very good reason to want a big ol' bullet. Even if you can't breach the armor, a larger bullet has better odds of breaking bones, knocking people down, and generally doing something useful and buying time for you to bring up the big guns. (Note that "armored targets" in this context can include animals or aliens that are naturally tough; a rhino is not going to be impressed by your run-of-the-mill handgun.)

The third reason is submunitions: something like a classic shotgun shell or a flechette cartridge. Instead of one big bullet, you take all that energy and put it into a bunch of little bullets that can each individually incapacitate or kill. This would be an advantage in close quarters (being able to aim more quickly - because you don't need to be as accurate - means you can beat an enemy to the punch if surprised), although because they're small, they tend to have a short effective range.

This suggests two basic situations where you'd want a revolver that's notable bigger than they already are: either your targets will shrug off normal pistol rounds (maybe they're wearing power armor, or are huge aliens), or you're actually using a revolver shotgun to blanket a space. In the latter case, you're arguably better served by a small-caliber, rapid-fire weapon like a submachine gun. In the former, the hand cannon is the best you're going to do for a sidearm.

  • $\begingroup$ So the idea is close-range hitting power and is only worth it when an SMG would be ineffective due to armor or falloff? Sounds good enough! $\endgroup$ – VeganJoy Jul 5 '18 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @VeganJoy Basically. Against a normal squishy human, a bunch of little bullets is traditionally considered better than a single big bullet. Of course, this is assuming that people are making decisions based on ballistic performance and not something else (regulations, social pressure, awesomeness). $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jul 5 '18 at 20:04

Nonlethal rounds.

Rubber bullets are big.


rubber bullets

They have to be big because the materials these are made of - rubber, plastix, wax - are not very dense. To have enough mass that they can fly very far they must be big.

Why would future cowboys want to shoot each other with nonlethal rounds? Because they don't want to kill each other, obviously. Maybe there are not many of them, and if too many get killed the rest will get lonely. Maybe a space cowboy just wants to knock the wind out of his opponent then run up and shave half of his moustache. I read that the rubber bullets used by the British in Northern Ireland were meant to be shot at the ground, from which they would bounce up and hit people in the groin. That has way more comedic value than just getting shot in the groin with a bullet which is not that funny.

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    $\begingroup$ While I doubt this gets to the point the asker is looking for, +1 for entertainment. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Reefman Jul 6 '18 at 2:06

Large caliber weapons have their place, but definitely not as hand-cannons. Some pretty obvious examples as to why are:

  1. High recoil of the hand-cannon could put a lot of stress on the wrist.

  2. You're limiting your ammunition capacity to what can fit in the cylinder.

  3. More frequent reloads.

  4. There's just better options.

Now, I bet you're asking: "HystericalGasmask, what ARE those better options?". Well, those options are anti-material rifles. Take a look at the Anzio 20mm rifle. It has a MASSIVE round that can be shot at a maximum fire range of 4.5 kilometers and 1006 meters per second. The energy coming from this could breach (if my math is correct) 650.79 square meters of steel. With one bullet.

In my opinion, the potential for high-caliber firearms would be wasted on hand cannons when you could put the idea to use in an anti-material rifle.

  • $\begingroup$ It’s also 40 kg and 2.5 m long. And I’m not sure how you’re measuring penetrative power in square meters... not disregarding it because anti materiel rifles are cool, just doesn’t seem practical at short range. $\endgroup$ – VeganJoy Jul 5 '18 at 21:31

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