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This is an extention of this question: Using dead bodies for material 4: ammunition

The world is suffering from the creatures of fantasy and nightmares which can appear with just a few minutes of warning anywhere, regardless of it being the middle of the street or on top of your bed while you are asleep. It can be a single one, or millions that swarm the area. The world's infrastructure has been degrading, food and supplies are harder and harder to come by. While firearms work well against these creatures the bodies left behind attract and breed both insects and disease. It is not feasible to hold on to area's with low populations as a sudden appearance of many nightmares can wipe them out.

To protect the city several paramilitary and militia groups are trained to seek out and kill any spawned nightmarish creatures. However to increase the chances of civilians who can't wait on those forces while a demon slug is trying to slowly eat their face everyone gets a fire-arm of their own.

The question: what weapon would be suitable for arming all civilians with?

Conditions that apply:

  • all civilians are above the age of 16 and have no severe psychiatric problems.
  • the weapon needs to be cheap to manufacture. "Cheap" means mostly resource-wise and equipment-wise. High-grade materials are hard to come by with a devastated industrial capacity.
  • the weapon needs to be easily maintained by untrained civilians, or require maintenance so far apart that a small group of trained personel can service all weapons.
  • the weapon needs to be portable on someone's back.
  • the weapon needs to be able to handle a wide variety of makeshift ammo. From glass to calcium to silicon to silicon carbide, anything that can be made out of dirt or dead bodies had to be loaded in the weapon. "Normal" ammunition is going to the trained personel.
  • the ammo will be aimed at non-armor piercing.
  • the weapon will be used in short-range as civilians are trained to hide and wait while militia's and paramilitaries do the actual fighting. Using their weapons is as a last resort.
  • alternative solutions that do not arm the populace is not considered for this question, the fluff demands that the civilians are armed with fire-arms.

I already have an idea what kind of weapon would come out of this. But having an idea is not the same as confirmation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 30 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan what is "short range" in this context? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ per chat, short range = "anywhere between the corridor of a flat (say 40m) and AAAAH GET IT OFF MY FACE" $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ ball bearings are in short suopply but propellant is plentiful? $\endgroup$
    – Jasen
    Aug 31 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Jasen metal is in short supply. What derelict buildings, cars and other objects that are cannibalized are used for fire-arms and the infrastructure to process the dead bodies for survival. For propellant those very same dead bodies are used: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/210760/… $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 31 at 10:17
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Revolvers.

@PcMan has a great answer about shotguns that speaks to their durability, ease of use, and relatively generous ammo properties. And indeed shotguns are great field weapons.

But your question isn't set in a field. It specifically disclaims wide-open spaces where longarms dominate in favor of tight urban confines. Monsters can appear in your room, while you're sitting at your desk. They can appear behind a door when you open it. They can even walk in on you in the can. You need a weapon that you can carry with you anywhere, draw quickly, aim reliably, and get off the first shot before a monster chews your face off. It's possible to do all of that with a shotgun but it takes time and training to develop those skills. So, a handgun.

Like shotguns, revolvers have a manually cycled mechanism that makes them generous in terms of ammunition. As long as it fits in the chamber and has a primer (and isn't powerful enough to explode it) you can fire it, no mucking about with gas seals and extractors and mechanical tolerances. In particular, low-quality ammunition that doesn't produce much pressure will give an automatic problems; not so for a revolver.

At the same time, a good double-action revolver is still semi-automatic - while a shotgun gives you one or two shots before you're working the pump-action or hunting for more shells, with a revolver you can be putting a fourth, fifth, sixth round into whatever materialized in front of you. This is an important consideration for less-trained civilians who can't be counted on to land their first shot.

There's no getting around the fact the revolvers have more moving parts than a simple manually-cycled shotgun and therefore need more maintenance, but this shouldn't be insurmountable. You have plenty of people, you just lack infrastructure; revolvers are perfectly amenable to craft workshops with hand tools.

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    $\begingroup$ Winchester liberator shotgun mk3. Gets around the problem of a shotgun revover by having four barrels and a rotating firing pin. I was a cheap shotgun design for arming guerilla fighters. Might hit a sweet spot here. $\endgroup$
    – Redbud201
    Aug 30 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ There are multiple, mass produced revolvers chambered for 410 gauge shotgun shells: personaldefenseworld.com/2016/12/410-bore-revolvers - been around for years $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Aug 30 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan What revolvers are you shooting? The round has more to do with stopping power than anything else. Not many people I know are "taking" 2-3 rounds from a .44 before they drop. Maybe a .22? Hollow-point or not also matters, range and grain of ammunition, etc. If you spec it out for close personal defense, it works well for close personal defense $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Aug 30 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Psst... it takes a LOT more training to become competent with a handgun, of any sort, than any long gun (including shotguns). $\endgroup$
    – SnakeDoc
    Aug 30 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan for what it's worth - you'll find most shotgun sport shooters and hunters rarely (if ever) clean, oil or "maintain" their shotguns. If anything, they throw a bore snake down the barrel and call it good. They're really simple devices and do not require tight tolerances like brass cartridged weapons. Handguns of any type, and rifles do require maintenance and cleaning to continue functioning well. Revolvers will require less, since the mechanics are simpler than semi-auto repeaters, but still will require more than a shotgun. Both are good "end of the world" weapons though. $\endgroup$
    – SnakeDoc
    Aug 31 at 0:02
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Shotgun, of course.

The manufacturing requirements for a shotgun are a lot easier than for any high velocity, rifled, bolt-action or even worse gas-powered autoloading firearms.

A simple breech loading shotgun. Likely a double-barrel, as that actually further eases the manufacturing and metallurgical requirements of the firearm.

  • A shotgun is quite powerful, at very short ranges. Short range only is good, it requires less skill of gunner or accuracy of firearm to still be effective.
  • It is robust.
  • It is very easy to operate, literally just point and shoot. The plebs will need minimal training, possibly even just a demonstration will suffice.
  • Its cartridges are easy to make, very tolerant to bullet/shot material defects or variance, and best of all quite inexpensive to make. (paper tube, gunpowder and shot. Primer if you can. That's it. Real firearms need brass casings, lead bullets, possibly even FMJ lead bullets, and nonfouling nonsmoking gunpowder.
  • It is not at all sensitive to fouling, the way rifles or automated weapons are. Plain old black powder is more than good enough!

And if the plebs should decide to turn their weapon on the Authorities, they will be so ridiculously outgunned that they are not a significant danger. This is usually the biggest danger of arming the masses.

p.s. Not pump-action shotguns.
Those require a great deal of precision and material quality to the manufacturing process to ensure smooth operation, but worse they impose much more stringent quality controls on the rounds themselves. In a pump action shotgun the cartridge must not only survive until firing, but must reliably remain intact after firing, to allow safe ejection. And the cartridge needs to be much stiffer to survive the loading process.

To clarify, this is the sort of thing I'm talking about:
enter image description here

A short-barrel, side-by-side double barrel, neckbreaker shotgun.
Not a neat and tidy little 20-gauge toy, a 12-gauge boomstick.
Not pumpaction, not sideloader. (So that a jam can be cleared easily, even with a broomstick and/or pliers!)
Unrifled, un-choked. (So that just about any load from solid slug to buckshot to flechettes can be shoved through it)
Small and light enough to be carried by a worker going about his daily tasks. I'm thinking over-the-shoulder back holster,
like this 'Desantis Kurz Shotgun Scabbard'
enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ A gun specifically for a scenario like this has already been designed: the Winchester Liberator shotgun. It was intended to be a cheap airdropped insurgency weapon that anyone could pick up and just use. They are (theoretically) extremely cheap to manufacture ($20 in Vietnam-era dollars) and dead-simple. This video is super informative: youtube.com/watch?v=PQK9JNsrq_8 $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 30 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek nice idea, never took hold. The alleged "ease of manufacturing" somehow never managed to materialize, and the 16-gauge ammo was just ridonkulous. no-one used that size. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 30 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ To simplify and improve manufacturability, as well as reducing cost, change this to a single barrel. For an untrained civilian, a double trigger or recoil trigger (automatically switches barrels) will cause trouble. A single has all the advantages of this side by side, and eliminates some of the problems; it can literally be built out of scrap (though less safe, it can't easily be worse than having your face eaten). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 30 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlKevinson sorry, but that is simply not true. The core nature of a double-barreled shotgun does not require that level of alignment, ONLY a precision shotgun used of birding need that accuracy. These good folk do not need to potshot a flying partridge at 120 yards, they need to shoot the face off a Cthulhu nightmare at 15 feet. The joined barrels help greatly with heat dissipation, shock dissipation, and prevent warping. 2 Barrels weigh only about 1.4 times as much as a single barrel, for a similar stress environment. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 30 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Holster on the back is not good. It's slow and uncomfortable to draw from, because you have to stretch your hand very far. Either hang it on the belt opposite of shooting hand (so usually on the left) like a sword, or if you have velcro, stap on your chest. That'd be much faster to draw, and fast to draw matters when you can be ambushed in town or even in building. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 31 at 5:30
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I'm assuming here that there will be little industrial capacity allocated to the militia's weapons- what proper factories exist will be used to produce weapons for regular military units, with smaller workshops tasked to make firearms for the militia.

(1) Slamfire shotgun- The simplest, most last ditch weapon imagineable would be a slamfire shotgun- literally two peices of pipe with something at the end of the bigger bit at the back to act as a firing pin. You put a shotgun shell in front pipe, and when you want to fire, you pull the front peice back sharply. No trigger, no safety, no ejector- you don't even need the handles here if you don't want them. You could even use it as a smoothbore, single shot rifle if you have an appropriately sized pipe- anything that fits in the pipe can go boom.

Range and accuracy aren't going to be particularly good, but letting off a 12 guage shell in a creature's face will probably do the job. They are so easy to make that supposedly it's not uncommon for homeless people to make them for self defence. Obviously, anyone issued with one will realise that their life is seen as worth less than a few peices of stamped sheet metal. slamfire shotgun

(2) Double barrel shotguns A considerable step up in terms of manufacturing costs, but also substantially more effective. Other answers covering this have explained why these are a good choice so I won't cover them here.

(3) Open bolt submachine guns Open bolt sub guns will give militias a much greater weight of fire while still being easy to manafacture. The sten gun is a perfect example of this- it's basically a barrel, a bolt, and some simple welds and stamped peices- it's probably one of the simplest firearms that you can make that would still be useful in a gunfight.

A spring at the back pushes the bolt forwards to detonate the cartridge, and the force of the recoil from the round pushes the bolt back to rear to start the process again. As there is no gas system, it should be much more robust to handmade ammo than other automatic weapons.

It can be made by a someone in a small workshop without any specialised tooling, doesn't require much material, and all the cuts are very simple. While it was prone to stoppages, most of these could be fixed easily and maintanence was simple- it didn't even require lubrication. Most of the issues come from the double stack-single feed magazine and could probably be fixed with a bit of tinkering with the design (paramilitaries in Northern Ireland used double stack double feed magazines on Stens so I'm sure it can be done). Besides, the ease of manufacture more than makes up for its flaws as a last ditch weapon.

sten

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    $\begingroup$ Came here to mention slamfire shotguns $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ This is a great answer, +1. However "smoothbore ... rifle" is an oxymoron. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Aug 31 at 13:29
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Slingshots.

slingshot

https://walkingdead.fandom.com/wiki/Slingshot

Following the outbreak, handheld slingshots became the favored weapons of Connie and her sister Kelly who would use them to shoot rocks with great force at their enemies. Despite not being as flashy as Magna's knives or Yumiko's Bow and Arrow, the slingshots proved to be highly effective against zombies...

pros:

  1. Anything can be used for ammo.

  2. Won't jam. If elastic breaks, easy to replace.

  3. Cheap to practice.

  4. Can be scaled up or down according to user strength.

cons:

  1. No awesome CGI explosions.

  2. Not phallic.

  3. Won't stop Godzilla.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure a slingshot qualifies as a fire-arm. Maybe if you oil up the arm and light it? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 29 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ Ah - I was concentrating on the bullet points which say "weapon". $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 29 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Do we know that slingshots don't stop Godzilla? I mean, has anyone tried? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 29 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @EikiPierstorff A trebuchet is essentially a bigger slingshot. :) $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Aug 30 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham, a trebuchet is a bigger sling, which is a completely different mechanism from slingshot. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 31 at 17:33
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Traditionally? You’d be looking at something like a Sten Gun. Cheap low calibre submachine-gun with wide manufacturing tolerances but capable of throwing out a bunch of lead in a hurry.

The lack of readily available cartridges is a problem, though, plus you want to be able to improvise.

What you might be able to make use of is something blended with a Harmonica Gun - an old kind of repeating weapon with a fixed series of chambers in a harmonica-like slide, each packed with a primer, powder, and a bullet. As you shoot, you push along the slide to the next slot, giving you a second shot ready to go and so on until you’ve fired off all your shots.

The accuracy? Awful. Would it be dangerous to operate? Certainly. Does it beat getting your leg eaten by a slug? Definitely.

Of course, this assumes a blunderbuss is off the table, which is cheaper still. Get a pipe, pack it with powder, and whatever garbage you can find. Touch off the powder in the back, spray whatever it is in front of you with scrap. Easy to aim, no need for moving parts, dead simple, if a little pedestrian.

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    $\begingroup$ Having looked up the sten gun, it seems to have some inherent design flaws in its operation and maintenance. Can you provide a reason why this gun is superior to a gun like the Kalashnikov, which has a legendary reputation for being durable, easy to produce and low maintenance? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 29 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan I wouldn't say flaws, but compromises, certainly. But what you have to understand about the Sten gun is that it's on a whole different level of ease of manufacture - we're talking knocked together in craft workshops in a couple of hours for a few pounds each. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 29 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan to add on to Cadence's answer, the sten is basically a bolt, a barrel and some stamped sheet parts - it's an emergency use weapon that is in a different league of simplciity compared to the AK. In contrast, to produce the AK47 cheaply with stamped parts, you need a comparatively higher level of technology as there are are a lot more moving parts. The AK47 is great if you have an actual tooling and the technical data package, but if not you'd struggle to produce working versions en masse. If you need an automatic weapon for your militia then sten is probably the way to go. $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Aug 30 at 7:35
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Shotguns are the best of modern weapons but I think you want something from farther in the past: The blunderbuss and the dragon--the ancestor of the shotgun. Black powder poured down the barrel rather than shotgun shells from the factory. In the situation you describe these would be single-shot weapons as reloading in a one-on-one fight would be impossible. (The dragon is simply the scaled-down one-handed version of the blunderbuss.)

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    $\begingroup$ Why are shotguns the best modern weapon? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ @IStandWithIsrael Look at PcMan's answer--and note that the question specified improvised ammunition--the only modern weapon where that's at all practical is the shotgun. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps shotguns are the best weapon for this scenario, but it seemed from your response that you were stating that shotguns are the best modern weapon, period. Perhaps I misunderstood your intention, though. $\endgroup$ Aug 31 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ @IStandWithIsrael I thought it was obvious I was talking about in the context of the question. There's a reason troops carry assault rifles, not assault shotguns. $\endgroup$ Aug 31 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave Personal opinion is not what defines "the best", objective reality is. However, objectively, shotguns are highly effective under certain conditions. Shotguns do not do well in long distance, precision, shooting, for example (rifles do). Nor do they do perform well for high volume suppression fire (machine guns, assault rifles, sub machine guns). Concealment? Pistols are a better choice. Silent killing? Knives, clubs, garrotes, even hitting someone on the head with a brick, is a better idea than a shotgun in that scenario. Close to mid range, low volume? Shotguns are fantastic choices. $\endgroup$ Sep 1 at 9:44
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Frame Shift

Arm your civilians populace with spears, swords, machetes, knives, bats, axes or other simple melee weapons

Requirement: The weapon needs to be cheap to manufacture. "Cheap" means mostly resource-wise and equipment-wise. Edged weapons, axes, bats, etc, are easily manufactured and require little specialized metallurgy, especially when compared to pistols, rifles, submachine guns, etc.

Requirement: The weapon needs to be easily maintained by untrained civilians, or require maintenance so far apart that a small group of trained personel can service all weapons. Check. Such simple weapons as a machete or spear require little maintenance. Illiterate soldiers and mercenaries for thousands of years were able to keep them in fighting shape.

The lower the requirements for building and maintaining these weapons the better Check the weapon would require as little training as possible to use. This one is a little trickier. Swordsmanship is a complex skill. However, a crowd of civilians clumped up with spears pointing outwards, or bashing that evil bug with club/axes/machetes, requires much less finesee.

The weapon needs to be portable on someone's back. Easy peasy.

the weapon needs to be able to handle a wide variety of makeshift ammo. No longer necessary to manufacture, distribute or store ammo.

The ammo will be aimed at non-armor piercing. Perfect. Melee weapons excel at damaging non-armor wearing beings. Just hit the bug over the head with a baseball bat.

The weapon will be used in short-range as civilians are trained to hide and wait while militia's and paramilitaries do the actual fighting. Using their weapons is as a last resort. Perfect. Weapons like axes or machetes excel at close quarters combat. Baseball bats are a common last-resort weapon for households in urban/suburban areas in the USA due to their simplicity, low training requirements, ubiquity, their safe factor around children, etc. Reserve the firearms for the highly trained military units for ranged combat and precision strikes from a safe distance.

Alternative solutions that do not arm the populace is not considered for this question, the fluff demands that the civilians are armed with fire-arms. This arms the populace against the bugs, but still allows the powers-that-be to control their citizenry, since they have high-quality firearms. If the fluff demands the civvies have firearms specifically, versus weapons, that is a problem. Only you can make the determination here.

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  • $\begingroup$ A good alternative, and definitely a good fallback for when ammo runs out. Which would be a serious concern for the scenario. You mention melee weapons, but what about crossbows? Ye oldy compound crossbows were made of wood, horn and tendons. Possibly a modern recurve/compound variant could be powerful enough with lighter bolts. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 30 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of adding medieval ranged weapons, but they require more skill. A crossbow has probably the lowest barrier to entry, but they are bulky and require strength. Still, not a terrible idea. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan problem with a crossbow is that a sufficiently powerful one requires significant strength and/or time-consuming mechanical aids to cock (windlass in extreme cases) but it is really undesirable / unsafe to wander around with a cocked crossbow on your back. The combination makes it a bad choice for fast response to a monster teleporting next to you. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 since there is a few minutes warning before a spawning and the people will likely not have to fight immediately there is some time. Also if I am not mistaken a crossbow can be cocked without a bolt slotted in, allowing people to walk around with one cocked but not loaded. That would ofcourse require a lot more replacement parts for the bow and tendonds and would still be undesireable. A ratchet+pulley compound crossbow could still be easier to build in less time than a full fire arm and I suspect still offer warbow-like draw weights. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 30 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan from my experience with using and maintaining both firearms and compound bows I actually suspect that a simple firearm would be easier to build than a compound crossbow. Unfortunately, it's illegal where I live to attempt either project (very irritating that crossbows are on the prohibited weapons list when other bows are completely unrestricted) so the question will remain moot. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 14:28
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Frame challenge: you don't need armed people you need safe points

Instead of trying to get everyone to fight back against the threat, you need to train people to sound an alarm and flee to a defensible point. People have a few minutes of warning to vacate the area and a few minutes more to safety; a reasonably fit person can cover a kilometre in that time, let's half that by having safe zones on a kilometre grid. The only problem is keeping the safe points themselves free of threats. This can be achieved by keeping them continually guarded, which has the added bonus that someone trained can defend them with heavier weapons, or you can design them in a way that prevents spawning - perhaps they have automatic saw blades, perhaps the space is blocked by removable spikes, perhaps it is a rapidly erectable structure so it is functionally not there until needed.

This removes the need to arm everyone, and mitigates the fact that many people will simply be ineffective even if armed unless heavily trained, and means that any threat that does approach people will be facing people who are grouped together for greater strength and in a defensible position.

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    $\begingroup$ I do intent on making a question about safe zones. They would have to be a bit more nuanced, since it would need to take into account that a spawning of one or two should not cause entire city sections to stop and hide but still be useful when a couple of thousand nightmares are rampaging through the city. It also needs to take into account less able people, like the important children and pregnant women. Even with safe zones I think it would be very useful to have everyone armed, especially when everyone hides in a safe zone and then several nightmares might accidentally spawn inside... $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Aug 30 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ what's the spawning pattern? is it uniform (if so how are there still farms) or does it follow population denisty? (if so how are there safe zones) $\endgroup$
    – Jasen
    Aug 31 at 10:09
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Don't look too far! There's a small place in Europe full of cows (and their dung), cheese and chocolate - and no, it's NOT Sweden - and they did something very close to what you are intending.

I suggest you read up on Switzerland's cold war militia system and the bunkers built in every house.

tl;dr

Switzerland made every able-bodied man a soldier and gave him a rifle to take back home. Every house, even public buildings, had to contain a bunker to sustain tenants and customers for two weeks in the case of a nuclear blast.

tl;bri (too long; but read it!)

Concrete bunkers are quickly built and likely very effective against nightmare creatures. They offer your people good protection when in defence and a place to withdraw to.

Now for the weaponry: You don't want high-end military weapons in people's homes because they need maintenance and ammunition which you want to save for your specialized troops.

What about giving them hand cannons? Yes, hand cannons. No, really, I'm totally sane - JUST HEAR ME OUT, OK?

Metallurgy has advanced, chemistry as well and so did military technologies in general.

Modern alloys won't burst when the powder explodes. Modern gunpowder, on the other hand, will also not explode prematurely/unintentionally just because you sneezed. Plus modern gunpowder is much less susceptible to humidity than in the old days. Additionally we also had advances in material science: you can keep the powder really dry, add some of those "do not eat"-bags into it and humidity is no issue anymore.

A modern alloy tube can be filled with some modern gun powder (think: paper cartridges). You add glass and metal shards, even pieces of bone, concrete, or stones - you found cutlery? perfect, stuff it in there and that's your canister shot!

All you need now is some basic aim (so better at least one working eye) and a lighter or a match. Works against single enemies on close range and even entire groups. And if you have several of them used together you will do quite some damage.

More advanced versions could use sparks from batteries to fire, maybe with some kind of trigger mechanism.

Easy to maintain, can use anything as ammunition, can be handled by everybody with ease and I guess, almost everybody has a ligher or some matches somewhere.

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