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Overall, our current non-lethal weapons are fairly poor. The human body is pretty good at maintaining consciousness, especially in a high-stress situation. The best we have right now are electroshock weapons, such as the Taser, which are usually short range, somewhat unreliable (they have to connect with the skin), and only incapacitate the person for a few seconds.

I'm trying to design a post-ballistic weapons society that emerges due to the invention of highly effective non-lethal guns. These weapons should ideally have all of the upsides of ballistic guns: hand-held, long range, rapid fire, non-trivial to protect against, and can incapacitate a person for a longer period of time (at least a few minutes). What technology might these weapons be based on?

A few ideas I had:

  1. Better tranquilizer guns. There's a reason is takes years of medical school just to administer general anaesthesia to a patient: it's really hard to put someone to sleep without either just making them groggy or killing them outright. Futuristic tranq guns could measure a person's body weight and administer just the right amount of the drugs to be effective. Still has to pierce the skin. Also, you might hit someone in the eye or something.
  2. Advanced Tasers. There's already the XREP, basically a Taser rifle.
  3. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. The technology for this would have to be pretty advanced, but theoretically it might be able to knock out someone's motor cortex, effectively incapacitating them.

A few notes after reading some of the answers:

  1. We don't have to knock out the person, freezing them or otherwise rendering them incapable of causing harm is fine.
  2. Whatever process we use to incapacitate them, it should be totally reversible (at least in theory).
  3. This technology should be available for law enforcement as well as to private citizens.
  4. The non-lethality aspect doesn't have to be foolproof, but it has to be as safe as possible.
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    $\begingroup$ Who are you targeting? And how important is it that they don't die? People equipped with well designed defenses might be tricky. $\endgroup$ – user25818 May 19 '17 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android and if you ask any law enforcement personnel they'll tell you that that there is no such thing as a non-lethal weapon. Everything is lethal under some circumstance. Tasering someone with a pacemaker will probably kill them. Someone with an allergic reaction to a tranquilizing agent could die from it. And so on. It might be rare, but there's still no guarantee that a weapon will never be lethal. So they use the term "less-lethal" for all of them. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 19 '17 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the microwave-based Active Denial System. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_Denial_System $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that humans are both weak (try non-lethally stopping a grown man and a young child standing next to each other), and resilient (padded clothes, face masks, etc, etc). I hold little hope for truly effective in-real-life LTL weapons. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 4:52
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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that weapon selection is specific to the scenario in question. Please elaborate the use case for your weapons, otherwise I am concerned this is far too broad, there are many options for non-lethal projectiles. $\endgroup$ – James May 19 '17 at 15:31

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The weapon you are looking for is a human police officer.

The criteria in the question in order :

A police officer is obviously always available to a police officer giving convenience and accessibility superior to handheld weapon.

Police officers can walk or drive cars. They can even, if properly trained, navigate stairs and corners. Given proper upkeep they have essentially unlimited range. Police officers are generally authorized only within a specific area, but that limitation is generally a good thing.

Police officers are, barring injury or some other incapacitating effect, always on. This is essentially infinite rapid fire.

Methods of protection against the police are generally passive. You can take advantage of corruption or insufficient resources. Only really effective active counter-measures you can take are to avoid notice or run away. Both of those limit the amount of damage you can cause, so even then the police have strong pacifying effect.

Organized groups or serial killers have had some success with committing crimes and fading into the background before the police can respond, optimally by being gone before the crime is even reported or by preventing the crime from being reported at all. But since the goal here was to make guns obsolete, forcing criminals to be discreet is actually sufficient.

The bottom line is that there is no trivial defense against the police. You have to think about it, plan your actions to avoid detection and capture, and then execute the plans successfully.

The police can hold a person for anything from few seconds to the rest of their life. This is because they can intelligently respond to circumstances and are backed by a huge infrastructure for holding and processing people.

For the same reason the police also, despite some high profile failures, out-perform any realistic weapon in limiting collateral damage. Unless your weapon has human level intelligence and can match the flexibility of humanoid form this will remain true.

"But I was looking for a weapon for the police to use..."

The man using the weapon is always more important than the weapon. In a specific situation different weapons may be critical. Just ask anyone charging a man with an SMG unarmed. You might need a necromancer or at least a medium to do so.

But the question is on the level of the society and there effective law enforcement combined with appropriate legislation is quite sufficient. Even if guns would work just fine, their criminal use would be rare enough to have no noticeable effect on society. Some countries are fairly close to that already.

The remaining loop-holes are organized crime and the mentally-ill.

Organized crime has no particular love of guns. If the government makes a point of suppressing criminal use of guns, organized criminals will try to do without. Annoying the police usually reduces the profits, so it should be done only for a big pay off or if the police are ineffective. In fact organized crime in general exists due to inefficiency of the legal society and can be reduced to insignificance if that is prioritized.

For example, it would be trivial to erase the drug cartels by making the drugs legally available. You'd need some other method to control drug abuse, but you totally would make the cartels and most criminal gangs extinct.

Similarly Islamic militant groups are born because governments choose not to deal with something and create power vacuums for anyone who shouts loudly to fill.

In the real world preventing the birth of such groups was not a priority, but you can imagine a world where it is. In fact, I think ISIS has succeeded at making governments more aware of the value of prevention, so it might actually happen.

The mentally ill can be dealt with better mental health care. You can just wave your hands and say such issues are detected by mumble mumble and cured with abracadabra.

And the result would be a post ballistic weapon society.

"What about the military and wars? They'd still use guns..."

Sure, they still would. The whole point or organized armies is that the violence is fenced off so it doesn't contaminate civil society. Usually this works too. Sometimes it doesn't. The rise of fascism can be linked to all those young men who learned to solve problems by killing them as ordered. Countries can remain unstable for a long time after a civil war.

But if you have a setting where no major war has been fought for a generation or two, what weapons the soldiers use is irrelevant. Besides even in the US with its second amendment military weapons and weapons used in crimes have little in common. This gap is likely to widen in the future so it is fairly safe to ignore the military when planning gun free society. Especially if wars get more professional. Which is entirely reasonable assumption. The countries where the wars actually happen would of course still suffer and be far from post-ballistic, but unless your characters are soldiers or live in the war-zone that can be ignored.

And I assume that is the case since non-lethal weapons are inappropriate for war zones. You do not really want to deal with large numbers of prisoners while fighting. Killing or wounding is more practical.

"But this is totally boring..."

Most real solutions are. That said improving law enforcement and making better laws and political decisions does fail to give that WOW factor.

I'd just give the police powered armor. Powered armor is about the same complexity as car. It would thus be about as easy to regulate. It is much easier restrict powered armor to the law enforcement than to do the same for guns, which are simpler and smaller.

Powered armor would make the police better able to physically restrain people. No thug on steroids will out-wrestle a police officer wearing a powered armor. They might hurt themselves trying, though.

It is reasonable to assume a powered armor would make officers more mobile with boosted jumping and running performance. Criminals would find it hard to outrun a police officer and incidents where the police shoots a man in the back would be unlikely. Especially since the powered armor probably records everything that happens and can't be "accidentally" forgotten.

Similarly, it is powered armor, so the police would probably not be scared of some idiot of shooting them. If somebody wants to go to prison for shooting at a police officer, it is their choice. I'd expect the officers would simply wait until the fool runs out of ammunition and then go pick them up. Well, not really, the fool might try shooting someone who is not wrapped in ballistic armor or just miss, so he'd be taken down ASAP.

If you want to be even more exotic, you can use robots. Robots are even easier to make bullet proof than powered armor.

("Bullet proof" -> Resistant to weapons they are likely to get shot with.)

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    $\begingroup$ "They can even, if properly trained, navigate stairs and corners." and giving the police forces armor result in a +1 from me $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 19 '17 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ I've -1 because unless I missed something, there is no suggestion for futuristic non-lethal guns. Though I was tempted not to vote at all because when I was reading about the armour I kept on thinking of robo-cop. $\endgroup$ – Necessity May 19 '17 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Necessity Damn you, now I am stuck thinking about RoboCop... Seriously, the reason I skipped talking about non-lethal guns despite them being explicitly asked about in the question is because I do not think a gun can do what was wanted. Police officers can. Given that the question was fairly open-ended request for ideas, I chose not to get stuck on a single word and instead provided an answer that would work. Even if some details not mentioned in the question mean it really has to be a gun the extra background should still be useful. Which is the actual goal for answers. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 19 '17 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Necessity Thanks for explaining the downvote, by the way. Downvotes are not an issue in themselves, but unexplained they are surprisingly annoying. A downvote with a reasonable explanation in contrast is just the price I pay for answering the way I chose and counts as constructive and welcome criticism. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 19 '17 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Well sure, in our universe, private gun ownership may be of questionable value. But if we're talking about reliable non-lethal guns, maybe private gun ownership would even be encouraged. If everyone was armed with freeze rays, couldn't we have our "good guy with a gun" scenarios play out as we want, with the worst accidents leaving a few bystanders frozen for a few minutes? $\endgroup$ – codebreaker May 20 '17 at 13:43
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Most likely a form of advanced electroshock weaponry where the projectile is fully self contained and able to deliver the required shock.

  • Small, self contained taser bullet that decelerates when it approaches its target (the projectile hitting someone at about 760m/s isn't exactly safe).
  • The electrolaser, uses a laser to create a conducting ionized channel through the air. In very basic terms, it shoots lightning.

There will be countermeasures for electroshocks, it completes the electronic circuit without the body of the wearer. Although I'm not sure it would work on a weapon like the electrolaser.


But since it's science fiction, one could also take a look at ways to ensnare the victim rather than knock them out. Maybe a bullet with a chemical compound inside, which opens before impact and releases the chemical onto its victim, where it rapidly expands into some sort of foam and ensnares the victim. Would look like a shotgun shell.
The foam, or what you want it to be, should be breathable and expand outward only, path of least resistance, so it will not suffocate, strangle or crush the victim.

However, with non-lethal weapons it's always a risk. People can be exceptionally fragile at times where something that wouldn't kill an average human, would kill that particular individual. Non-lethal weapons should not be used lightly, even if it is highly effective.

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    $\begingroup$ If you ain that foam expanding bullet at a man's chest, it'll hit a woman in the neck and suffocate her. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Yes, that's a risk with foam as we know it. Perhaps they discovered a foam when researching these bullets that you can breathe through yet still strong enough to hold an adult male constricted. It's not impossible. $\endgroup$ – Quwin May 19 '17 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ or bad luck and it hits her in the neck and she strangles to death. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if wrapping yourself in "science fiction", then go whole hog and just say, "set phasers on stun!" $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 "Non-Lethal" is a misnomer. They should be called "Less-Lethal". It's very hard to hit the sweet spot of just enough force to incapacitate, but not too much to kill. $\endgroup$ – A Bailey May 19 '17 at 12:38
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What about nanites?
You shoot the target with a tranquilliser style shot but instead of injecting a chemical it injects nanites. These could then seek out the optical nerve and disrupt signals to the brain leaving the target blind or seriously disoriented.
Alternatively they could go to the motor cortex and disrupt out going signals rendering the target incapacitated and paralysed (or possibly having some kind of seizure).

The nanites would either turn off automatically after a set time or have a kill switch that could be activated making them turn off. The victim should then recover quite quickly as they would be designed to only disrupt and not damage anything important.

The main downside I can see is they may not be able to take effect very quickly depending on the speed they could reach the brain or whatever they are targeting (nanotechnology is still largely theoretical so it may not even be possible at all, it depends how hard science you want your setting)

It may even be possible to disperse them via aerosol for use against crowds.

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I'm gonna go a little different and say some kind of extra super sticky slime ball could work. I don't know what it would be made of. Probably some fancy new-fangled meta-material. I'm thinking the splat might reduce the force of impact since it's not a totally solid object, but it being kind of large, like maybe a softball size wad of snot basically. Certain materials and solvents resist or eliminate the stick so that we can make launchers and gloves and things to actually use it successfully.

The point being that it's instantly ULTRA sticky. If you have it on you and bang into a wall or floor, you're pretty much stuck there unless you rip off your skin or clothes. You're arms get stuck to your sides, your legs get stuck together. At the very least, your slowed down for a moment and more hits can basically stick you to a wall or the ground in a way that you are down until someone frees you. It could also be made into various sizes for taking down things like getaway cars. Maybe it foams a little to aid in spreading around. (got that idea from Quwin's answer)

LEO's (Law Enforcement Officers) can use a solvent liquid like a special version of Goof Off or something made special to breakdown the sticky stuff like water on cotton candy. They could also wear special gloves (or maybe it just doesn't stick to latex) so that it doesn't stick to them as they handcuff or otherwise restrain the person for transport. Hell, maybe after a couple of hours or days, it can just break apart and start to breakdown. Maybe duration is a setting on the weapon.

The idea being that even if someone is cocooned like alien food, spray a little around their hands so that you can get the zip-ties on. Maybe there is a special "spatula" that resists the stick and LEO's can just scrape the dude up, leaving them stuck to themselves. Lots of options.

I'm thinking of a scenario where some baddie is running away down an alley and FWOMP! a sticky ball is shot towards him out of something akin to a chemical fed grenade launcher. It puts two or more chemicals together like an epoxy to create the snot ball, and then it launches out some 10's of yards. When the ball hits the perp, it splats. Shooting them a few times, especially in the legs would basically trip them up and put them on the ground. Now, legs together, stuck to the ground, the guy tries to get free, but now their hands are stuck to their legs and they've basically hog-tied themselves. A couple more shots make sure he's not going anywhere. When ready to arrest them, cops use their spray to free any limb they want to restrain with zip-ties or handcuffs or whatever. Some time during booking, the perp is washed off. Or not. Whatever you think.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but what's to prevent targets from simply wearing several layers of clothing (jacket, sweater, shirt, undershirt, etc.) and taking off one layer with each hit? $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 21 '17 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Ambrose Winters: Good point. It's not fool proof and good vs bad guys are always upping their game, but have you tried running wearing several layers of clothes? Also, have you tried running from the cops with several layers of pants on, then having to take the outside layer off while running and covered with sticky stuff that's nearly impossible to unstick, all while being shot at with more sticky stuff? I'd say it's a lot more likely that you'll have your layers stick and tangle together rather than you making a "clean" getaway. $\endgroup$ – coblr May 22 '17 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ True. Also you could aim at the ankles or knees and then they couldn't move at all. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 22 '17 at 18:46
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Rocket assisted drones guided by internal AI systems for fire-and-forget simplicity while providing guaranteed delivery to target. Each drone is equipped with retractable tentacles which snake out to ensnare an arm, leg or neck of the intended target. Once the drone is attached, it immediately administers a variety of advanced anesthetics via all available delivery mechanisms, including but not limited to trans-dermal, injection and aerosol. Should the victim prove resistant to these medical measures, electrical shock and ultrasonic disruption of the victim's inner ear can be added to guarantee incapacitation.

These drones represent the first truly non-lethal crowd control weapon as along with all of their offensive capabilities, each drone is a portable yet fully functional auto-medic, capable of monitoring life signs and administering corrective medical treatments as necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ sounds like a very complicated method of throwing a somewhat better net? $\endgroup$ – Burki May 19 '17 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki Much the same as the automobile is a very complicated method of achieving somewhat better transportation? We're talking advanced society, here, which usually means today's "complicated" is tomorrow's normal. $\endgroup$ – type_outcast May 19 '17 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ @type_outcast i really like new technology. But sometimes it helps to reflect on things, and cnsider things like 'i am paying 100'000 times as much money, use millions times more energy to achieve the same result... could it be that i'm overdoing things? The above proposal is a bit rube-goldbergish in my eyes $\endgroup$ – Burki May 19 '17 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ While something like this would certainly be effective, I'm not sure it would be available for home defense. This sounds like something that only the enforcers of a totalitarian government would have access to. $\endgroup$ – codebreaker May 19 '17 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Burki I'd see this as a possibility if the drones were developed as medical drones and then adapted to peacekeeping. I imagine that death-by-heart-problems would drop dramatically if we had sparse drones in the sky that could monitor or be called down, and were capable of administering drugs, proper CPR, and defibrillation as-needed. In the event of an accident, the tentacles evolve to help stabilize the patient's neck (or other limbs that could be broken). Once the drones already patrol, you could see them being adapted to police work with little effort. $\endgroup$ – Delioth May 19 '17 at 15:38
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Subcutaneous GPS devices. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy ;-)

First, I will leave to you to decide what the future looks like, if it's a dark reality where everyone has been forced to have a subcutaneous GPS device and the governments could be using them to track and spying on people, of if it's a bright future of trust and good intentions and those devices are not powered on 'till needed.

Either ways all the population has a GPS sensor implanted, coupled with a tiny transmitter capable of sending a signal to a station. This signal carries your position along with some status information, e.g. when you have a health problem the device power on and send your position and a flag to the base, so you get tracked instantly.

But...what if someone shoot you with a "signalling gun", which just activate the device so that it sends your position along with the "crime" status? Well, now you have two options: sit down and wait for the cops to arrive with normal consequences (get arrested, trial, and so on), or run away, get tracked, beaten by the police, forget about the trial and go in jail for life.

This should obviously work better in a bright future, but should be interesting to paint in a bleak one too.

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    $\begingroup$ Well hey, if you're forcing everyone to get implants, why not just make one that knocks them out when exposed to a particular infrared frequency? Then the police can just carry laser tag guns! $\endgroup$ – codebreaker May 19 '17 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @codebreaker for two reasons. First if you want something 100% not lethal you have to rule out tasers and chemicals and such, because statistically you'll end up killing someone now and then with those. Second and, IMHO much more important, this is supposed to be WorldBuilding and not WorldMoreOfTheSame :-) $\endgroup$ – motoDrizzt May 19 '17 at 15:07
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There exist sound and light weapons. As we get better at knowing how sensory input effects people these are expected to become more sophisticated. Working around counter measures doesn't seem like a winning side, but possibly advances of ear and eye protections have limitations. They are expected to at least be able to make targets effectively blind or deaf.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you think futuristic iterations of these weapons might be like? $\endgroup$ – codebreaker May 19 '17 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ Sunglasses and ear plugs. Problem solved. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn - earplugs don't work with infrasounds. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel May 19 '17 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @mouviciel science fiction earplugs do!! :) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Noise-canceling headphones that span all the way from infrasound to ultrasound might do the job. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 20 '17 at 13:36
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Pulsed energy projectiles (PEP) use electromagnetic radiation to ablate the surface of the target, producing a burst of plasma, which would knock the intended target to the ground. It's considered non-lethal. The main problem could be its weight. Of course, maybe your technology is advanced enough for smaller firearms.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the basis of futuristic non-lethal weapons with advancements for hand held versions and rapid firing. As a note, Star Wars attached this technology to blasters and were used to capture Princess Leia in "A New Hope" $\endgroup$ – Reed May 19 '17 at 13:28
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Smart explosive bullets.

If you can (afford to) put a possessor, camera, explosives and probably a guidance system on your bullets you can choose where a bullet explodes relative to a person.

Exploding before hitting a person might hit them with a shockwave or fragments enough to disable them. With enough data an estimate of what it would take to disable a particular target might be made in flight. As the bullet estimates the target is more resilient it explodes closer to them, including possibly post impact on an armored target.

This also lends itself to maiming which hasn't been expressly ruled out as a method of incapacitating a target. Instead of steering itself to the face or chest the bullet could aim for limbs and estimate a nonfatal injury.

To get the data to make this work military versions would probably have to be used for a reasonable amount of time; you'd kill a lot of people before finding a reliable formula for not killing people.

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  • $\begingroup$ One immediate problem is the possibility of collateral damage--what if civilians are around? Won't the shrapnel hurt them as well? $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 21 '17 at 1:51
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A smart material net launcher would be nice.

Smart material so it can modulate constriction thus it can bind and restrain without suffocation. If the strands can cross link to make it harder to escape that's even better.

A taser function could be a possible addition for further effectiveness.

The projectile will also need to be smart if you want decent range, it needs to stay compact then open at just the right time to hit the target. Likely with a micro explosive charge. Normal net launchers suffer from the incredible drag an open net experiences giving them a very short range. a compact projectile that expands will help greatly.

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How about a non-lethal, directed energy weapon? As linked, this scary thing actually already exists. And the DoD plan to make this weapon more precise, and hand-held, which overcomes most of its current problems, and also meets all your criteria.

This is a weapon that projects microwaves at single targets or whole crowds. Inflicting crazy amounts of pain, that is reported to feel like being set on fire. There is, however, almost no lasting damage caused by the weapon. Though current models have been reported to possibly damage the eyes, this is likely to be fixed in further development (and could be hand-waved away anyway, in fiction).

This is almost definitely the non-lethal weaponry of the future. Microwave weapons cause a minor amount of heating in the skin, that tricks the nerves, and incapacitates the target with wracking, burning pain.

Thus, this would be:

  • Hand-held.
  • Long range. "The beam can be focused up to 700 meters away".
  • Rapid fire, well, it pulses indefinitely.
  • Non-trivial to protect against, even in its current, unperfected form ("penetrate[s] thick clothing").
  • Can incapacitate a person for a longer period of time. The effects in real-life are not fully known. But the incredibly intense pain supposedly takes time to dissipate, and there are a reports of this just knocking people out.

So, in reality, this futuristic technology already exists. And it's real frightening. Once a hand-held, more precise version is perfected, it probably will be used by law enforcement, I'll bet.

There's quite a lot on directed energy weapons on wikipedia. They're all kinda fun and also scary.

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    $\begingroup$ Someone did mention ADS in the comments, but yeah, this is a really interesting technology that could probably be miniaturized in the future. I guess I'd like to avoid pure pain compliance if possible, but other than that, it seems like this meets all my criteria. $\endgroup$ – codebreaker May 20 '17 at 13:33
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I'm not sure "guns" covers it well. I'm trying to imagine something as primitive as a gun (of any kind) really being how it would work in such a future. Although that's what the question asks, maybe the OP would also consider solutions might come from thinking in a wider frame. Two examples:

In the future, everyone has an IT implant. Those are already en route and I imagine they'll arrive in the next few decades - typing and screens are really a bit primitive compared to neural-computer lookup, and once they start to become common everyone will have them.

Law enforcement of the future's non lethal weapon? Disconnecting someone's brain from the instant availability of all information they've been used to all their life, and possibly disrupting their sensory input and motor control output for good measure. Sounds minor but even that first part would be huge to someone who's relied on assisted information all their life, when the computer starts overlaying their world with static flashing black and white and screeching random noise, rather than the info they would expect and find useful...... At the moment we can do this via flash-bang grenades and apparently they're quite effective too.

An alternative might be that in future, the streets and buildings are made of a smart material, for self cleaning and maintenances, and also for law enforcement use. Police can direct the street where a person is, to rapidly change texture, adhesion, friction, lighting, develop a slope or undulations, etc, to affect a person needing restraint. Let the environment which a person can't avoid, restrain them, rather than some person-to-person weapon.

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What if you could "freeze" your target instantly?

Unable to move any muscle, unable to run or fight or pull the trigger on their own weapon? To me, this is the ultimate non-lethal weapon.

The advantage of this is that it doesn't matter whether they are still conscious, if they're "frozen" they can't take any offensive (or defensive) action against you, they can be captured easily, or just temporarily subdued.

Lots of possible ways you could explain this, depending on how far in the future we are talking:

  • It could be some instantaneous (but temporary) "nerve paralyzing agent" with some biological explanation, delivered via conventional means (penetrating pellet or hypo)
  • It could be an "energy"-style laser weapon that freezes targets via a glowing green force field or aura
  • It could even be based on a "local time freeze", if your society has developed other time-bending technologies.
  • Heck, make it a literal "freeze ray", encasing them with a layer of solid blue ice (from which they can later safely thaw), complete with icicles hanging off their nose.
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  • $\begingroup$ "any muscle" includes your diaphragm (breathing) and your heart. $\endgroup$ – Justsalt May 19 '17 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Justsalt [Insert hand-wavey "target neuro-receptor" technobabble here] $\endgroup$ – BradC May 19 '17 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not really seeing how this really differs from a modern-day Taser. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 21 '17 at 1:50
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You specify that you want a gun, but my first question would be: what is your goal? Do you need an offensive weapon which is non-lethal, or would a defense suffice? Depending on your actual goal, there may be many alternatives besides a high-tech gun.

For example, nano-technology clothing that rapidly inflates like an air bag and is impenetrable by blades and small firearms. Perhaps this clothing senses extreme panic and deploys. Might also be useful if a car or bike were about to run you down or if you fell off of a ledge. Not as cool as a gun, though. Of course, if the police could override your clothing and cause it to inflate -- or perhaps shrink-wrap you -- it could be used to detain a criminal... if you could also have laws requiring everyone to wear certain clothing.

I could imagine environmental devices whereby shields/barriers materialize instantly between two people if one threatened the other. The ultimate defense would be everyone having a personal robot, where the robots work cooperatively to keep their owners from harming or being harmed, ala Asimov's Foundation Series.

How about everyone implanted with a "walk around in a circle" device in their brain at birth? Police push a button and the person stops doing whatever they were doing and starts walking in a small circle.

Must the weapon be handheld? For example, large drones could fly overhead with vortex cannons, and the police call in an air strike, essentially. (If you're outdoors, of course.)

Or how about a gun that shoots an extremely slippery substance? Hit the floor around a person and they know they'll literally fall to the ground and be unable to get up if they take a step. You'd need to work on something to neutralize the gel, and hope it doesn't damage the carpet.

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It's fiction, and it sounds like you want something convenient and cool.

So, it has to be a kinda gun. It mustn't need inconvenient bulky ammo. It must be effective enough to win against someone with a "normal" gun.

So, a gun which fires carefully controlled laser pulses to ionize the air. Then follows with EM pulse through the ionized conductive channel. The EM pulse is modulated in a way, that it'll make every somatic/skeletal muscle cramp (so not the heart for example). Very painful, instant incapacitation, and will take at least minutes, but often hours to recover from.

Quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cramp:

A cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction or over-shortening; while generally temporary and non-damaging, they can cause significant pain, and a paralysis-like immobility of the affected muscle. Onset is usually sudden, and it resolves on its own over a period of several seconds, minutes or hours.

The EM pulse is not very strong, it does not cause actual electric shock, the idea is that it just gives controlled neural impulses in a way that body itself does most of the effect, causing the full-body cramp. It is also not dangerous to those it does not hit, as the effect (for handgun sized models) will be localized to about 10 cm from where the plasma channel created by the laser pulse ends.

Rate of fire, number of shots with single battery also consider fuel cells), visual effect, side and shape of the guns etc can be whatever you want them to be for your story purposes.


Additional details:

Body armor could have developed with advanced materials, making normal guns and bullet ineffective against very light armor, and if hard plates are added even armor piercing small caliber bullets would not penetrate body armor, which is light enough to wear in battle. Think of hardening nanomesh, which is like cloth, but turns rigid on impact, spreading force of the bullet over very large area.

However, any practical armor will not protect against these EM pulse weapons, the armor would have to be essenyially a Faraday cage, or thiker than the effective radius of the EM pulse (10 cm above).

The most dangerous part of the weapon is the laser pulse, but it could just be very very short, too short to cause eye damage. Short pulse is also great for saving battery power for the gun. Again the laser could be modulated so that the frequency resonates with air molecules' electron clouds, causing minor ionization with minimal energy input.

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Genetically engineered virus.

Distribute a genetically engineered virus that is compatible with human body, will not mutate (use XNA?) and will respond to specific wave patterns. Once the police officer directs their antenna at the person, virus will excrete a chemical that will knock out the person. The virus will replicate and spread without overwhelming the body. Only downside is, your police officers will also have the same virus.

Welcome to the future where even the criminals use non-lethal weaponry.

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Noticed a few answers going for smart bullets; I agree that those are viable options, and wanted to expand a bit on them.

  • Smart bullets can start out as backwards-compatible with existing guns. This provides an explanation for why they're in widespread use: they're inevitably more expensive than regular bullets (at least before taxes and regulations kick in), but the accuracy and ethical benefits are (in your setting) worth the price.
  • A bullet with a small explosive charge can detonate itself (per not store bought dirt's answer) in close proximity to the target, but the explosion could also inflate an airbag or a parachute instead of generating shrapnel, thus lowering the impact velocity back down to nonlethal levels without sacrificing exit velocity (and thus effective range). Bonus points if the parachute is coated in contact tranquilizer or glue; preferably the latter for armored targets.
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You could simply shoot a net. It won't knock out the target but it can prevent it from moving. You can also imagine a bolas gun for a longer range and since it's scifi, you can have smart bolas that tighten itself after hitting the target.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Hugo! I am not sure if a net would really satisfy the conditions "long range" and "rapid-fire". Could you flesh out your answer a bit to show why your net has "all of the upsides of ballistic guns"? If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 19 '17 at 9:25
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Nanotech drone bugs (AI or man-controlled).

There could exist many versions with various goals (and they could also work together as teams):

  • Brain-implant-drones; they would implant themselves in the brains, and interrupt the brain's existing neural networks; perhaps even work in the fashion of some sort of brain chips that would enable partial control over certain aspects of the human's behavior.

  • Destruction-drones; they can move around within the body to cause some non-lethal internal damage (or also lethal if necessary), or better yet, assemble to compromise some of the body's functions, and perhaps find some sort of "off-switch" for the human (manipulating with the body's pain signals so it shuts itself down under too much sudden pain).

You could fit sets of these nano-drones inside some sort of smart bullets you fire (given your condition it should be fired from some sort of hand-held gun), which begins to accelerate or decelerate in speed nearing the target, and at a certain point, the shell would either drop or melt and then the monsters are released.

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Pelletized drugs affectionately known as "sleeping bullets". Seems simple and accessible to me. You can fire 200 rounds fro the price of one drone and the kicker! They're 100% bio-degradeable and Vegan! Riot forces use a more massive version fondly known as the "Coma cannon". The last version went a little overboard and resulted in the start of what will in time come to be known as the Zombie Apocalypse.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! Are there sources you can reference for further information regarding that last sentence? It looks interesting. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 19 '17 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ References, please. $\endgroup$ – Ambrose Winters May 20 '17 at 13:35

protected by Serban Tanasa May 20 '17 at 21:22

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