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I was originally going to claim my world has very low levels of sulfur, resulting in a lack of gunpowder and thus a lack of guns. But after realizing how cool things like fireworks and Hwacha are, then I noticed that the problem I have isn't with gunpowder, but with guns.

Is there any way that I can have things like fireworks and hwachas without having things like cannons, bombs and guns?

My current thoughts are related to zohar as described in this answer, but I am looking for other, better solutions.

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    $\begingroup$ Modern day makes this infinitely trickier, because I can come up with 5+ designs for guns that don't use gunpowder. $\endgroup$ – Peter Sep 8 '16 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ why don't you want guns? This is important for the answer $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Sep 8 '16 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ In this context what are you defining as a "gun?" Does a rocket in a tube count, or are you wanting to avoid high-pressure-discharge type weapons specifically? $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Sep 8 '16 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ If there isn't a lot of warfare, people won't need to invent guns. Individuals may fashion something gun, or cannon, like; but nobody will care, and any individuals that do will probably kill themselves experimenting. Without a need for a weapon there is no reason to weaponize gunpowder. People, in our world, have already demonstrated that they will weaponize anything they can in time of war though. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Sep 8 '16 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Once you have widespread fireworks, people are going to start doing things like anvil launching. And once you have anvil launching, someone's going to put a "round" anvil in a tube and make a cannon. Even if you have fireworks, you'll still have to restrict how widespread they are to prevent cannons/guns. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Sep 8 '16 at 20:42

12 Answers 12

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A gun is composed of three very important components: the barrel, the propellant, and the projectile. Your constraints require the propellant to be available, and projectiles are ubiquitous, which means the only thing we can reasonably restrict would be the barrel.

Today, gun barrels are made of steel, but in the past they were made of various iron and copper alloys. This is a result of the fact that the propellant produces a fairly high pressure, and any metal too soft will deform or rupture instead of propel the projectile. It around this point I propose a solution.

On Earth, copper and iron are fairly common metals, meaning the development of firearms was inevitable (in my humble opinion). But what if these two metals were more rare? What if they were so rare that they were basically mythical? Some bright, enterprising inventor may still "invent" the firearm in theory, but without the proper metals from which to construct the barrels the idea would never get off the ground.

Unfortunately, this would also stunt the technological growth of your civilization. Historical ages are named after metals (Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc.) for a very good reason. Without the development of bronze and iron tools, there is no telling how civilization might develop, or if it even would. Personally I think it would find a way to thrive, but I can obviously provide no evidence to that end.

A different solution might be to limit the usefulness of metals in specific ways. We know that iron rusts already, but the corrosion is slow enough to be prevented or managed. If some change were made to the atmosphere (by natural or perhaps supernatural means) iron might corrode much more quickly, rendering it useless in any stressful job (like regularly containing an explosion) but would still leave it available for more mundane uses like simple tools. Similar limitations could be placed on copper or bronze to make it even less useful for firearms. In this regard there are many potential options limited only by imagination.

On a comparative note, Jim Butcher has a novel called The Aeronaut's Windlass set in a psudo-steampunk world. Guns are rarely used, and with extreme wariness because all iron corrodes supernaturally fast (it is never explained why this happens) and all iron objects are coated in a copper alloy for protection. Repeated firing of a gun will eat away the inner coating of the barrel, and the gun will explode after maybe 50 shots or so, meaning the only people who use firearms are either desperate or crazy. I realize that doesn't quite satisfy your requirements of "no guns at all" but I thought it worth mentioning.

Good luck!

Edit: Some commenters have raised the valid point that cannons made from weaker materials than iron and copper do exist. Wood and bamboo are a good example. However, such weapons would be unwieldy and unreliable at best, and dangerous at worst. So while the technology would technically exist for such weapons, they would very likely not be used in combat.

A good real-world comparative example would be the Zeppelin. While they exist, and were used occasionally for a short period in history, other more reliable and useful machines rendered the zeppelin obsolete. The zeppelin is now relegated to the realm of pulp fiction (where it remains absolutely awesome).

In my opinion, wooden cannons would do likewise in TrEs-2b's hypothetical world. Cannons would be designed, and perhaps even constructed and used, but their unreliability would make them a thing of fancy and not a thing of war. While I know this technically does not fulfill OP's requirement of absolutely no firearms, this solution seems the most plausible to me considering the reality check tag.

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    $\begingroup$ Nope. You can make a cannon out of bamboo. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 9 '16 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura or wood though they used metal bands to strengthen the tree in mythbusters :) $\endgroup$ – joojaa Sep 9 '16 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ You only need a strong material if you want to reuse the weapon. Furthermore you can make a barrel by boring out some material, like ice, stone, soil, or wood, you don't need to construct a tube, just a hole. $\endgroup$ – nmtoken Sep 9 '16 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Today, gun barrels are made of steel, but in the past they were made of various iron and copper alloys." Steel hasn't stopped being an iron alloy last I checked. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Sep 9 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ More likely the limitations of (e.g. bamboo tubes) would change the design : keep the barrel pressure down using slower-burning propellant. And rather than use an impossibly long barrel, take the propellant with you. And so evolved the rocket. As used attacking Baghdad in the 13th century. $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Sep 10 '16 at 10:08
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The short answer is: yes. The fireworks were invented long before the firearms

The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China (time of the Tang Dynasty), where they were invented.

the firearms were invented some 500 years after.

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    $\begingroup$ Saying, "The short answer is" implies that there is a long answer $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 8 '16 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ The long answer is on the linked wikipedia page. $\endgroup$ – Lew Sep 8 '16 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @ Nex Terren I see your point. Let me put it this way: the existence of all the components does not guarantee the invention of the technology--the compound bow was developed in the 20th century, although ropes and pulleys were used long before. Same thing with what we now call "gunpowder"---it was invented long before guns. $\endgroup$ – Lew Sep 8 '16 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ To play devil's advocate here @UncleTres, this answer perfectly addresses your query. You want gunpowder without guns, i.e. fireworks without cannons, and here it is simply stated that our world had exactly this situation for roughly a couple thousand years. Perhaps the fault lies not with the simplicity of this answer, but in the inexactness of your question. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Sep 8 '16 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ I wholeheartedly agree with both Lew and @cobaltduck. A yes/no question was asked, and a yes/no answer was given. If the question was "How could a [culture] never come across firearms?", expectations may have been better filled. The question would also probably have closed as "primarily opinion-based". I feel like how the purported situation is kind of up to the questioner to write, after studying the supplied link. $\endgroup$ – Lord Dust Sep 8 '16 at 20:03
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Lack of metallurgy and no suitable materials for an improvised cannon. While wood has been used in the past, it needed something to strengthen it. A few really bad experiments would discourage all but the bravest. The inability to use gunpowder weapons with any degree of accuracy and safety would result in most preferring 'traditional' weapons.

There's been cultures with no steel or even copper. They could have advanced glass or obsidian based tools, lots of organic tools.

They might also have a cultural dislike of specific sort of weapons - much like you clearly do. They may consider them too loud, shoot too slowly. They might do as the British did and be launch dozens of arrows in the time it would take to load a gun. They might be like the mongols, and be able to launch dozens of arrows at a time with unerring accuracy. They might consider cannons and guns to be crude weapons, much like the jedi preferred close range lightsabers over blasters.

They might know about the whoosh and fear the boom

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the cultural dislike is the best option because the natural evolution of explosives would be projectiles and eventually firearms. "It is cowardly to use projectile weapons and not look into your enemies' eyes when killing them." Something like that I think is the best way to prevent guns in story. $\endgroup$ – UnhandledExcepSean Sep 9 '16 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really fly when your life and the life of your family is at stake. "I'd rather die than use weapon X" works in movies. In real life, you'll use whatever gives you an advantage. $\endgroup$ – pipe Sep 9 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with you @pipe but I can also conceive of a culture where it would cost you your honor to the point where your life and the life of your family/ancestors/pets would all be basically forfeit if you used a cowardly/forbidden weapon. $\endgroup$ – BlackVegetable Sep 9 '16 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ "Its noisy, smells funny, isn't accurate and I can shoot the gunner in the stomach 5 times while he reloads" was more I was thinking. $\endgroup$ – Journeyman Geek Sep 10 '16 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ @pipe Chemical, nuclear, biological warfare, landmines, weapons designed to maim or blind, among a whole host of other lethal tactics have all been outlawed. $\endgroup$ – Shane Sep 10 '16 at 1:01
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A lot of it depends on innovation. Take the factory example. Folks had been creating pins for decades before someone realize that it would be more efficient if each person did a single task and moved it on. In retrospect, it was painfully obvious but no one saw it until that one person did.

Guns can be the same way. Maybe no one thought about putting it in a metal container? Or muskets. If you never had that innovative person, then guns wouldn't exist. There were a lot of steps that lead up to the modern day gun (casings, rifling barrels, speed loaders, storage methodologies, refinement of gun powder, bullets verses shots, etc), any one of them would have drastically change what a "gun" was today (or even if one exists).

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    $\begingroup$ While a lot of innovations lead to modern firearms, I don't think they're really all that subject to a single inventor at any stage. Usually there were lots of parallel inventions, and then gradually everyone standardized on whichever innovation worked best. A lot of the innovations don't need to be sequential either, even if say, rifling, had never been invented, modern-style shotguns are still worlds better than bows and swords. $\endgroup$ – Deolater Sep 9 '16 at 16:48
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"Lady of Mazes" -- novel, one of my all-time favorites. Ubiquitous nanotech disables any technology antithetical to the local community's ethics. Community A doesn't believe in distance weapons? Then guns and bows don't work on land owned by Community A. Community B values face-to-face communication? Then phones and radios don't work in Community B territory. There's more subtlety and complexity in the novel, but you get the idea -- it gives you any tech level Y minus unwanted feature X.

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    $\begingroup$ Although "ubiquitous nanotech" and "present day" don't seem to align too well. $\endgroup$ – Deolater Sep 9 '16 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ It does insofar as the ubiquitous nanotech creates a current-day environment minus the guns. The characters have tech level of today even though the world is considerably more advanced. $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 9 '16 at 17:48
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A few ideas from other worlds I'm familiar with:

Secret Society

In Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series he has a fireworks guild that controls fireworks as a guild secret. This means only a few thousand people of the masses have knowledge of gunpowder and it's related materials. This guild would go so far as to assassinate anyone who left the guild or obtained the secret through other means to protect their franchise.

A similar construct may allow gunpowder to be available but controlled by a dark society that never releases it's secret. This would naturally prevent evolution of technologies related to gunpowder while allowing other technologies to grow freely. It would also provide lots of interesting plot points.

Remove Usefulness

In Frank Herbert's Dune series their exists an energy shield that makes laser rifles pointless. I think if you shot a shielded individual it would kill both the shooter and the shot (or something like that). So the society built a new emphasis on melee weapons such as swords and spears.

Perhaps the air pressure in your world makes gunpowder too volatile (guns would have to be too heavy to conceal). Perhaps even the lowest class have a built in shield due to previous abuse of projectile weapons. Either way it doesn't matter if guns exists because no one is stupid enough to use them.

Cultural Pride

In Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek The Klingon race has had laser weapons for over a thousand years. But they still seem to be punching, stabbing, and bashing each other a lot. The culture is obsessed with "honor" where hand to hand combat is the height of their display.

Create a culture where it doesn't matter if guns have been invented. They are the tools of assassins and dishonorable refuse. This makes guns very rare and the rare show of a gun results in mob justice.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was going to recommend some religious limitation, but that's basically the same as your point on cultural pride. Also, shields in Dune protected against fast-moving objects, including projectiles but not a slow knife stab. The laser+shield -> big explosion was a separate little detail... $\endgroup$ – ilkkachu Sep 10 '16 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah been a while since i read dune. I just remember they didn't mix well and made high society use swords. Religion is a great tool for limiting projectile weapons. You can really work with that. $\endgroup$ – danielson317 Sep 10 '16 at 15:28
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No.

Not without rewriting physics and changing how combustion works. If you can have things like fireworks, then you can have things like guns and firearms. They all go hand in hand. The only difference is their intended use. That's why there's "improvised" ordnance; because they all do the same thing: burn.

You need to find a way to fundamentally alter combustion without breaking the universe.

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  • $\begingroup$ ... or if you're willing to forgo the fireworks and tweak some biology, you could lower the oxygen content of the atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 9 '16 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ Gunpowder provides its own oxygen, and can burn fine in a vacuum or underwater. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Sep 9 '16 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ This answer assumes the question equates to "Can gunpowder be possible and guns be impossible?", but it doesn't, it's too vague. Really the question in all its vagueness is, "Must there be guns if there is gunpowder?". You can have all the ingredients for a cake, but if you never bake one then you will never have cake. The human element in this equation - invention, desire, choice - is as significant as the physical possibility. Answers which completely neglect that element are inherently insufficient. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Sep 9 '16 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @talrnu - If you have gunpowder, you will have guns within 500 years, or you're not on planet Earth (tag: reality check). I'd presume to be able to alter the entire cosmos before I'd attempt to change any part of human behavior and expect it to work right. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 11 '16 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura Just because you can't imagine a way to alter human nature to achieve an end does not mean that end is impossible. $\endgroup$ – talrnu Sep 12 '16 at 14:09
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Yes.

Incas had found out about wheel (toys with wheel were found) but never used it for tools.

Likewise, you can have gun powder without using it for guns.

All you need is a better alternative. A conjunction of expensive metals and pre-existing very good archery skills (both in building and using), with heavy weapons like scorpios, making the emergence of those new weapons much harder could be a solution.

Alternatively, a single event like a great fire in a warehouse (destroying a town or even bringing the end to a civilisation) could cause great fear of using the gunpowder on a large scale for generations.

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  • $\begingroup$ It should be noted that the aztecs didn't use the wheel for carts not because they didn't know how, but because they lacked good domesticated animals to pull them, so building them would be pointless. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 10 '16 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ @UncleTres humans can pull cart as well, though $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Sep 10 '16 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ But the aztecs didn't have slaves, (well not in a way that mattered), they killed the ones they caught $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 10 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @UncleTres doesn't matter. If they had a use/need for wheel-powered vehicules (like transporting goods on flat roads, for example), they would have used it, I suppose $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Sep 10 '16 at 18:58
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Yes you can have gunpowder without the guns, in theory. If the sources of the elements required in gunpowder are rare on your world, so too would firearms. Of course if that were the case, things like fireworks might be a wasteful use of gunpowder. But weaponizing the gunpowder would still be an issue, firearms or no. That's why terrorists and guerrilla fighters and just about anyone with access and know-how create IEDs.

I'm a bit confused as to why you would want to eliminate firearms but Hwacha are "cool". Firearms are but a tool, just as the Hwacha, or a shovel or a sickel or a hammer or a...you get the point. Used for hunting and defense, firearms are incredibly useful tools. In the hands of evil people, the tools are used for more diabolical purposes. But then, so too are knives, spades, sickles, hammers, staves, etc.

Maybe the answer isn't eliminating the firearms, rather, eliminating the evil or creating a necessary evil so great, evil people fear it more than the evil inside themselves.

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Since it is your world, and you want fireworks, but you don't want guns, you could of course hand-wave them away.
(Someone should do exactly this on our world, but well... )

Since you are looking for an explanation, you could either make them technologically unfeasible (which others have explained how), or you might go a different route altogether.

Most likely, if technology is not a hindrance, someone will eventually invent a gun. But i take it that the existance of a single gun in your world would not exactly be a problem.
So we are now talking about guns in large numbers.
Those will only exist if there is a need for them and if they are accepted as a reasonable answer to a real problem (the need).
On our world, we use guns for sports (which can be ignored for the moment, because like many other sports they were derived from a military background), for military / law enforcement purposes, and for hunting / defense against wild animals.

So, if your world for some reason had no dangerous wildlife (or found a different way of dealing with it), and for some reason no large-scale military conflict, there would be no need for guns, and as a result they would never be a widespread thing.

A variant on the military aspect is that in Europe, for a very long time (i don't remember the details, though), ranged weapons were frowned upon, much in the way chemical and biological weapons are today.

So provided you have a world (or civilization) that has no strong needs for defence, and / or a moral ban on ranged weapons, you can have all the technology you like but still no guns around.

A side note: you would not be having gunpowder then, only blastingpowder, plackpowder, explosives... but no gunpowder, since the word would make no sense in your world.

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You don't have to make the firearm physically impossible to construct, just make the alternatives better and development of firearms just a little more dangerous.

Make the crossbow a bit more effective so there is less pressure to develop a firearm. Perhaps the French won more against the English and their accursed longbows :) Then have a few high profile accidents with early firearm designs (most likely when they were still in the siege cannon phase) that kill a renowned inventor or a popular king and you could suppress firearm development for centuries while parallel technology still matures. In Europe at least some of the impetus to change to firearms was due to some military victories where the firearm played a key part. But if those battles went the other way few nations may have spent the money on them.

Siege cannon and mortars are an issue though, since they were REALLY effective at reducing fortifications, so nations will pursue making them at all costs. But you could have them and not firearms.

Of course there were air rifles using compressed air in the 19th century, so if you have too much technology there will be firearm like weapons.

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Perhaps you need only to adjust the available fuel. Gun powder is supposed to burn at high speed, but not to explode. This is why gun powder is usually grained (thus controlling surface area and reaction speed) rather than actual powder. This is important, because it changes the energy transmission from propellant to projectile. A single blast will destroy the gun (super sonic transmission of energy, thus preventing the projectile from moving in time to give way to the pressure) while a slower burning yields continuous pressure (i.e. energy transfer to the projectile).

I did not find a good source for the thermodynamics but maybe wiki helps: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explosion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combustion

While rockets and missiles will usually aim for a slow burning process rather than a fast explosive reaction, several small explosions in sequence might allow for rocket but make guns far more difficult to manufacture. Key would be a sort of gun powder that for some reasons does not allow clotting/ graining.

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protected by HDE 226868 Sep 11 '16 at 20:34

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