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What about a thousand years? This question was asked before about planes (I think), but since a gun is considerably less complex than a vehicle, I was wondering if they'd stand the test of time. Or would you need to build new, more primitive guns?

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    $\begingroup$ I think we can formulate a general rule that any mechanical, chemical or electrical system abandonned for centuries isn't safe to use. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jul 7 '16 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ In "The 100" they used 100 year old weapons - that they found sealed in barrels of oil to prevent damage. They still didn't all work. $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Jul 7 '16 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ Some landmines from WWI are still killing people: history.stackexchange.com/questions/12305/… $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm Jul 7 '16 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to make it clearer that you're talking about a gun loaded 500 years ago. My first thought was "Of course, just like we can pick up a loaded gun and fire it today." I was wondering if you were asking about future gun laws, or availability of "primitive" projectile weapons in the future. $\endgroup$ – TMN Jul 7 '16 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, if you've got a cannon that fires guns or other random chunks of metal. $\endgroup$ – davidbak Jul 7 '16 at 17:10
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A well-maintained firearm can last for generations, but the key is maintenance. I personally own several weapons that are more than a century old and still fire quite well. I completely anticipate they will continue to do so for another 100 years, but only if my descendants take care of them as meticulously as myself and my forebears.

The reason there is need for this constant care is rust. All firearms have a barrel made of steel. Steel is very susceptible to rust under even the best conditions. Most weapons have some sort of rust protection, like zinc plating or bluing, but these need constant attention or else they will weather away, exposing the vulnerable steel beneath.

Some weapons (read: pretty much all of them) also have non-metal parts, made from wood or some synthetic material. With constant care, the wood might also last as long as the metal, but it also might not. Certain synthetics show some longevity, but they will also degrade eventually.

Even if the weapon in question was well maintained for the entire course of time, we have the problem of ammunition. Even under the best storage conditions, ammunition has a shelf life well short of our proposed timeframe. Casings, bullets, primers, and even powder (ALL of the requisite components) will break down, rust, or erode over time. If it DID manage to survive (unlikely) it would be questionable, and firing it would be dangerous at best.

Optimistically, I can imagine that in 500 years from today, assuming life continues as it is, there may be a small handful of operational 20th century weapons in the hands of collectors. Most likely there would be zero. Assuming the world goes to hell in a handbasket, the chances are even slimmer.

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    $\begingroup$ Having seen a warehouse full of neglected WW2 era weapons being cleaned out, I can attest to this issue. Their conditions are sickening. $\endgroup$ – WarPorcus Jul 7 '16 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ Based on how many 15th century weapons there still are in a working state, I think "zero" is a lowball, although for the number of weapons that have been continuously kept in a good state rather than occasionally being dug up and fixed it might be more valid. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jul 7 '16 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik Those 15th century weapons are all just variations on a theme of "stick them with the pointy end" though. For any 15th century gunpowder-based weapon, I doubt any modern armourer would be happy about firing it. (Mind you, it's dubious how many 15th-century gunpowder weapons would be considered safe to use by modern standards even when they were new - metallurgy was not great back then, and a significant number blew up their users instead of their targets.) $\endgroup$ – Graham Jul 7 '16 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if cast iron would work fine? Once it develops a protective layer of rust, if nothing disturbs the rust it will continue to work fine. The Rifle is a story along these lines. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Jul 7 '16 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'm curious, if it was stored in a hermetically sealed, nitrogen filled vault, would the ammo still go bad? Is it the oxidation that does it, or is there another process? $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jul 7 '16 at 15:56
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A few years ago a centuries-old loaded cannon was found in New York. CNN reported that the gunpowder was still "active". Unexploded ordnance that is almost 100 years old is still dangerous, so caution is surely indicated.

On the other hand, the mechanism of a modern semiautomatic handgun is much more complicated than a muzzle-loading cannon. Look at the pic in the New York case.

  • The most likely result in your case would be that the trigger and firing pin don't work.
  • If the pin works, the next most likely result is that the primer and propellant don't work.
  • If the propellant works, the weapon might be damaged, the bullet might get stuck in the barrel, the slide might crack, whatever.
  • If the bullet gets fired, which is extremely unlikely, accuracy will suffer.
  • Also, the likelihood that the semiautomatic will chamber another round is very low.
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    $\begingroup$ Saying that a modern handgun is much more complicated is an understatement. A cannon is literally a tube with a small hole near one end and a big hole in the other. A handgun is a complicated mess of moving parts, as it has to be to incorporate features like disabling the whole thing when the safety is on, locking the slide back when the magazine is empty, automatically rechambering with every shot, etc, all in a package small enough to fit in a pocket but sturdy enough to take a series of a dozen relatively large explosions in quick succession without showing any I'll effects. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jul 7 '16 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ @QPaysTaxes, that's why I differentiated between the first shot and subsequent ones. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 7 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I didn't see that. My bad. Still, it's worth making explicit just how different they are. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Jul 7 '16 at 16:08
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They would work in the right situations, but I wouldn't trust them to fire very well, if at all. It would require a controlled environment, preferably with humidity control. A sealed vault could hypothetically keep it working. It's not really a matter of the gun itself, since stored properly artifacts will last forever (yes, guns require maintenance, but historical artifacts in vaults don't). But ammo itself goes bad. This usually doesn't happen for a couple decades, but I doubt nitrocellulose would last that long. Ammunition from the 50's can still be used, but improperly stored ammo can go bad. Even properly stored, 500 years is a bit of a stretch, and you might have to go through a bunch of non-firing bullets before finding something that works.

A normal diesel emergency generator in a similar hypothetical environment, maybe a sealed off vault, could work, and it wouldn't take too much to just scrape together spare parts from different generators and replace the ones that failed.

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  • $\begingroup$ the generator tangent: yes, i thing a simple generator would preserve quite well, but the storage of the actual diesel fuel is surprisingly difficult, as it deteriorates quite fast $\endgroup$ – cypherabe Jul 7 '16 at 11:56
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No, not even close

Pistols as well as most guns are made of stainless steel. Many other compunds are needed to make a working gun, such as copper, zinc, gunpowder and other assorted alloys. The main problem here is the steel. In which it will last 10 years of a reasonable rust free life assuming its zinc plated. Whereas austenitic stainless steel fasteners will give at least 30 years trouble free life for most applications. So short story even shorter, no the gun won't even last 10% of your goal.

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  • $\begingroup$ today every modern weapon, armor and tool comes in hard, high quality and cheap plastic $\endgroup$ – άλεξ μιζέρια Jul 7 '16 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ @άλεξμιζέρια No... $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 7 '16 at 0:15
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What I believe is the as yet unanswered part of your question, "Can you...", no I will be dead by then!!!

Next, could someone alive then? Sure they could, it might fire, it might not - though I agree with one of the other comments, one of the more interesting cases might well be a 'printed gun' out of plastic. No rust, no maintenance. As others have noted, the ammo might not function though.

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  • $\begingroup$ You beat me to it :-( $\endgroup$ – Luke A. Leber Jul 7 '16 at 15:57
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Problems with ammo could be fixed by using an airgun. The question is would the compressed air still have the same pressure or would it have all leaked out over a century.

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  • $\begingroup$ It will have leaked. The kind of airgun that uses muscle power, via a lever or a pump, to create its air pressure won't have that problem, but it faces all the other issues above, and is a pretty feeble weapon too. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Jul 9 '16 at 22:29

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