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My setting takes place in the late 2100's, so the technology should inherently be much more advanced than the technology we currently possess. However, I still want to feature firearms that are identifiable in the modern day, like the AKM, M16, LSAT, AA-12 etc. The issue I see with this, is that these guns would be far outdated by almost 200 years from now. Using modern firearms a century and a half from now would be like the equivalent of using muskets or flintlock pistols in modern warfare.

One foreseeable reasoning I could understand is that real-life weapons like the M2 Browning are still in use, despite almost being a century old design.

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    $\begingroup$ These weapons will still be as lethal in 200 years as they are today. An arrow to the heart will still kill a human and natural selection hasn't made us any more arrow-proof in the last however many thousands of years. Is your question whether or not these weapons will still be lethal, whether or not they will still be manufactured, or whether or not weapons produced today will still be operable in 200 or so years? I have my grandpa's 12-guage in a gun cabinet and it still makes pumpkins explode the same way it did when it was his. $\endgroup$ – Vincent T. Mossman Jul 10 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ Do you expect those firearms to see 200 years of active use, or they would be mostly in storage? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 10 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ Colt model 1911. Winchester rifle manufactured from 1866 to the present. Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver manufactured from 1899 to the present. Browning Hi-Power introduced in 1935. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 10 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ The way technology is more advanced in 2100 will shape whether old weapons are still practical. Consider this example from the webcomic Schlock Mercenary, followed by this one. If your tech difference gets that big, existing weapons are going to have a challenge. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 10 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Technical improvement is generally not linear. It is asymptotic with occasional quantum jumps. That is, you have a basic design, say a muzzleloader. It gets gradually improved until it asymptotically approaches the best possible muzzloader. Then in a quantum jump, someone invents breechloaders, and that design gets improved until someone invents autoloaders and magazines... So barring some new quantum jump in design, today's firearms should be useful well into the future. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 11 at 5:37
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As long as they do a job and people like them:

The basic job of a gun is to shoot something. A gun needs to be relatively simple and reliable, able to be ignored a lot and ready at a moment's notice. While a lot of fancy guns used exclusively for war will be outmoded as soon as a better gun is made, for self-defense people still use revolvers and automatics only slightly different than those used a century before. The real cutting edge stuff will go out, but a basic weapons is a classic. Bolt action rifles work perfectly to hunt, and I suspect the AK47 will be a militia backup in isolated places for centuries. The mechanics of firearms are only shifting slightly, except for the fancy stuff. People still make the Brown Bess because they love them, and still hunt with them because they work and it's fun.

As well, new ammunition types are likely to extend the life of modern firearms. I'm not saying people will use the identical shotgun (although they might), but the basic tool is a good fit for tasks and will last until people don't need and want them anymore.

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    $\begingroup$ Worth pointing out how good the AK-47 is. The core design was developed in 1945–47; but at least as of 2004, “of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s.” (a World Bank firearms report, quoted in Wikipedia) $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Jul 11 at 6:59
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    $\begingroup$ The mechanics of guns may not change, but the real leap will be eliminating the clumsy human aiming them. A human is slow and has unsteady hands, while a robot can aim and fire within milliseconds. I don't expect this to take 200 years, instead I expect autonomous robots like you see from Boston Dynamics to be outfitted with weapons and deployed to the battlefield within 20 years. It's like how everyone in the 20th century expected flying cars, but instead we're getting normal cars with self driving. $\endgroup$ – SurpriseDog Jul 11 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ @D.J.Klomp I'm surprised that the US hasn't pulled out of it within the last four years. $\endgroup$ – Carcer Jul 11 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @D.J.Klomp, Google says otherwise - can you provide a reference? $\endgroup$ – Harry Johnston Jul 11 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Harry: Article 48 (Basic Rule), additional protocol I of 1977 ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/… I know it is still a debated subject, but currently autonomous weapons cannot (or have a very hard time in) separating combatants from non-combatants. Defensive autonomous weapons with humans on the loop, instead of in the loop work by creating a no-go area. They make no distinctions and work basically similar to a mine field which is also banned by the Geneva convention for the same reasons. $\endgroup$ – D.J. Klomp Jul 12 at 11:49
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Just how "identifiable" should they be?

I think it is improbable that the military or ordinary civilian shooters would use weapons that are actually 200 years old. Some collectors, maybe, but those who actually shoot their genuine antiques would be a small subgroup within a small niche. But just how different can a modern weapon be and still qualify for your "identifiable" criteria?

Others mentioned the Browning M2 heavy machine gun. Let me add the M1911 pistol which has been around for 110 years, but the latest variant looks slightly different and it also has some internal differences.

Or take the M16 assault rifle. 50 years old and the family is still going strong. Here is an image of four different models, decades apart. Now imagine mounting a M203 grenade launcher under the barrel, or a foregrip. The HK416 has even more differences. There is even a 9mm variant.

Why do that?

Training and logistics.

Say you have a military which has assault rifles in 5.56mm and sniper rifles and general-purpose MGs in 7.62mm. There are factories set up to produce 5.56mm rounds. There are billions of them in your war reserve. There is an agreement with your allies about the shape of magazines. And then some clever guy comes along and says "replace both by 6.8mm" ... Yeah. Sure.

But even if you decided to make the changeover, you have scores of active duty troops and reservists trained in the old weapon. So there is a powerful incentive to have the overall look-and-feel similar.

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  • $\begingroup$ The "training and logistics" argument falls afoul of the test of history. NATO established 7.62mm as the "standard" rifle round, but the USA very quickly abandoned this standard by switching to 5.56mm and leaving its allies floundering. There are certainly training and logistic issues with switching weapons - I speak from first hand experience as one of the trainers when Australia switched from the 7.62mm SLR to the 5.56mm F88 Austeyr - but it happens. And a soldier I served with was originally trained to use the .303 Lee Enfield... $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jul 11 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055, switching is certainly possible whenever there is a clear-cut case for doing it. What do you think, would the M16 have come without the jungle war in Vietnam? $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 11 at 14:40
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Give it an in-story reason

What has happened in the past 100+ years? There are several reasons that firearms development might focus on the early 21st century firearms.

No need

Maybe the society doesn't need anything more advanced. If the biggest threats are lightly armored opponents, there's no need to throw more resources at firearms development.

Gun control

In 1986, the United States effectively banned civilian ownership of new automatic weapons. As a result, if you want to buy an automatic weapon today, you can only find pre-ban firearms (here's an example). Maybe there was some form of gun control that banned newer firearms. A country that's sufficiently opposed to firearms development might even restrict their military. Maybe there are even treaties where countries agree that they won't advance their firearms R&D beyond a certain point.

Nostalgia

I know a few people who shoot muzzle loaders or compound bows even though they're vastly inferior to cutting edge firearms. I shoot revolvers for fun. These firearms work, so why use anything else?

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You kinda answered your own question with the M2 reference. If a design is solid enough there has to be a good reason to switch away from it.

Unless some insane breakthrough in energy storage density occurs, it'll still be cheap and effective enough to use gunpowder powered weapons. The same basic weapon layout will still be functional enough, although I am sure there'll be some subtle differences.

It is not uncommon at all to have modern ballistic operating firearms appear in sci-fi settings, sometimes even further into the future than 2200.

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    $\begingroup$ If @Niobium_Sage question is about the evolution of warfare, there might be something to be said. In general we are moving away from hand-to-hand (gun-to-gun) conflict and towards remote drone strikes, higher degrees of espionage, diplomatic and economical warfare, etc. $\endgroup$ – Vincent T. Mossman Jul 10 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @VincentT.Mossman You’re right by stating that warfare would become less hands on, but hands on would still remain. By the late 2100’s nanotechnology would be the big thing, kinda like how nuclear power was in the 1950’s. Nanotech could have all sorts of implications, like nano-healing, nanobullets, weapons that can change shape etc. $\endgroup$ – Niobium_Sage Jul 10 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ Hypothetically, even if there were some insane breakthrough in energy storage, if that energy were still used to propel mass then wouldn't it still be unusable as a means to increase firepower due to the massively increased recoil? $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 10 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen I was more thinking about going to Directed Energy Weapons like laser, plasma, or ion weapons. Without the breakthrough we'll still be using kinetic projectiles for a long time. Using something like a Coil or Railgun could have insane recoil, but you can lower the projectile mass and increase the velocity to maintain the same total momentum change. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Jul 10 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @abestrange Using less mass might reduce weight as long as it outweighed (heh, underweighed?) the increased mass of the power system. But that wouldn't actually result in increased power would it? Just the same. Well I guess might since recoil is mv and energy is 1/2mv^2. So increase speed increases energy faster than the recoil ...I think. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Jul 10 at 22:41
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Beretta has been manufacturing firearms since 1526.

A firearm used in the 16th Century would still fire a lethal projectile, if kept in operating condition. All of the supplies needed to operate such weaponry is readily available, even to the general public (gunpowder, pellets, paper/cloth, fuses).

Technological advancements have made firearms faster, easier, and safer to operate since the 1500s, and the pace of technology won't slow down in the war department (short of some massive global disarmament policies, even then there will be a black market).

Using a 200 year old firearm against a modern weapon would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Think about European settlers in North America coming into contact with Native Americans. It really wasn't a fair fight as far as firearm technology was concerned. And there may be an energy source yet to be discovered which would make gunpowder based weaponry as obsolete as bows and arrows.

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    $\begingroup$ "Using a 200 year old firearm against a modern weapon would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight": I don't know about two hundred years, but I am pretty sure that an 120 years old Parabellum (a.k.a. Luger) would be as effective today as it was at the dawn of the 20th century. And it accepts standard NATO ammunition... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 10 at 22:45
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Fear of Gun Control

We currently have the technology for electronic controlled firing systems for firearms but gun companies refuse to research and design them. Any company that even thinks about it is targeted by group like the NRA and receive public backlash. Company shares plummet, sales plummet and shareholders riot.

As a result, why change the design of a perfectly functional mechanical firearm? Any tech is new materials, new ammo and new manufacturing processes but other than that, the same basic design remains.

People want a gun they can point at something and blow it away. They don't want features like geo fencing which would stop a gun being taken into a school and used to shoot a bunch of toddlers. They don't want features like a palm readers linked to the owner so a gun can't be stolen and used in home invasions. The mere though of a "safe" gun terrifies people. As a result guns won't change very much in design for a long long time.....

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However, I still want to feature firearms that are identifiable in the modern day, like the AKM, M16, LSAT, AA-12 etc.

A lot depends on your reason for wanting them to be identifiable in that way. If it's to ground your future world in today's reality, a tried-and-true way to do that is to use familiar-sounding names but invented models, perhaps even harkening back to existing models. You could talk about the Browning M720 or the Beretta ARX600 or the AK-7400. If I read "AK-7400" I'm going to think of the AK-47 and expect something like it, but more modern. Similarly "Browning" and "Beretta" and such will connect your world to reality.

Otherwise, if you want to literally have them use AK-47s and such, throw in a bit of dialog or narrative about how nothing beats the reliability of a simple design with a 200-year-plus track record, particularly when executed in modern materials.

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If firearms designed 200+ years before are still in use by the military of any Country (guerrilla forces are going to face different priorities) it would mean at least one of the following (but not necessarily all):

A - general tech development has slowed down. This may happen for economic reasons. R&D of new weapon systems is extremely expensive. That would prove quite unpopular if basic health care cannot be kept because of the ongoing economic conjuncture. Another combined reason may be lack of pressing need. One thing is if you fear any moment the enemy is going to land on your shores. Another if tensions with other nations are somewhat managed in a non violent way.

B - they are still somewhat effective.
Which means that development of personal armor has not progressed much. Maybe for reason A. Maybe effective armor is just too expensive to be given to the average grunt.

C - They are just a part of the arsenal.
While EM rifles and anti-droid weaponry is an established technology and nanotech is the cutting edge the good old firearms of the past are more than adequate to keep in check the swarms of infantry. After all grunts are much less expensive to field in 2191

D - Inertia.
As pointed out in the other answers when you and your allies have large stocks of weapons and ammo it becomes difficult to justify to switch over to a complete new system. Especially if point B is valid.

Furthermore: any firearm we have in use now is any good if the user is capable of detecting and aiming correctly at the target. So while a SCAR 17 will still be an awesome weapon in 200 years the big upgrade would be the aiming system, battle awareness, droids integration and so on.

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