My world has automation but I do not want guns or explosives. Yet, there is oil, and internal combustion to drive cars. I'd simply like no guns, for the purposes of the story.

They can have knives and arrows, etc.

Might my world be missing some compound, say potassium nitrate, and would that be sufficient to preclude the development of guns and explosives? I have a hard time imagining an earth like world with human like people and no potassium nitrate (since it is a simple chemical involving the elements of life.)

(I also suspect they could come up with another way to make guns that did not involve gunpowder.)

Is there a way that a technological world could exist and not have the ability to make guns?

(I can always write a law preventing them, but I'd rather not.)

  • $\begingroup$ "invent" as in "put into widespread use" or as in "have general idea and one more or less functional prototype"? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ I am aiming for the latter. Ideally, they cannot be created because the planet is missing something. $\endgroup$
    – SFWriter
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd say "not really" because we have so many ways to make things go boom. Sadly can't gather enough evidence to make it an answer, and this isn't an reality check anyway. And what about air pressure guns? We had at least one somewhat effective as anti-personell and hunting weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot the air pressure gun is a good point. $\endgroup$
    – SFWriter
    Oct 22, 2017 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ I decided to add a moral component (genetically dictated) that prevents use of guns. But it's not detailed in this story. So far, no one seems concerned by the lack of guns. $\endgroup$
    – SFWriter
    Aug 2, 2018 at 2:28

3 Answers 3


There are things you can do to make guns less likely but I fear they will emerge eventually. The key question is what basic age do you want it to be set in? If you can set the age in which your story is set as early as possible it would help.Here are a few possibilities:

Gun power ingredient problems
Potassium nitrate and sulphur might occur in more dilute forms and might be combined with other materials that were hard to separate out, delaying the invention of gunpowder.

Climate difficulties
Very wet climatic conditions might make the use of gunpowder impractical

Less inquisitive behaviour
If society is somehow arranged so as to make invention and discovery un welcome then gun powder might also be delayed

Poor metallurgy
If metals are less available or tend to arrive with a lot of impurities it might be difficult to create sufficiently robust gun barrels.

  • $\begingroup$ I would think that any civilisation capable on constructing the internal combustion engine with its metal cylinders, could produce a metal cylinder capable of acting as a gun barrel. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Sarriesfan -- you have to realize that internal combustion engine cylinders can be made with much more metal around them than a gunbarrel. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Oct 22, 2017 at 1:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay I do, but earlier guns were made of cast iron that was not as strong as the steel available in the late Victorian era when the internal combustion engine was invented using that steel.If you can make an engine I would still mantain you could make a gun, it may need a more robust gun carriage than we are used to and weigh more but it would still be functional. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Oct 22, 2017 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ This may give me a way out though, it seems reasonable that a heavy and inconvenient gun could exist (because it should, logically, given the world) yet be so unwieldy that it is not carried around as a means of defence. $\endgroup$
    – SFWriter
    Oct 22, 2017 at 14:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Asimov chose unavailability of metals as a major constrain upon his Foundation. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 22, 2017 at 15:01

Gasoline + air + spark = bomb.

Coal dust + air + spark = bomb.

Grain dust + air + spark = bomb.

Closed container + water + sufficient heat = bomb.

Fertilizer + diesel + energy = bomb.

Silver + ammonia = silver nitride = BOOM!

Nitric acid + wood = guncotton, etc and so on.

Compressed air + quick release valve + barrel + bullet = gun (Airguns were developed in the 16th Century, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition carried Girandoni air rifles.

If the world has chemistry and physics like ours, there's simply no way to prevent things from going boom, and then people finding out ways to make things go boom.

  • $\begingroup$ You are right, however it should be possible to delay things by making the circumstances awkward. Gun power was the principle explosive used for centuries and was only adopted slowly. If potassium nitrate and sulphur were harder to extract and refine then it might well have slowed progress. I like the idea of a grain gun and I have heard of explosions caused by fine organic dust such as flour in a mill, but I fear it would not be practical weapon ;o) $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Oct 24, 2017 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ Sulphur is trivial to get, if the planet is like our with life like ours. Native sulfur is found (and mined) at hot springs and volcanoes. It is found in deposits where bacteria break down sulphide minerals. It's a very common element (10th most common in the universe). Potassium nitrate requires some knowledge, but is also relatively easy to extract, create, and/or purify. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2017 at 15:05

Yes: Your world has extreme atmospheric density. While this won't completely take out guns and explosives it will severely limit their power. Note that it will also lower the performance of internal combustion engines and eliminate any form of high speed flight. (No space program unless you launch from high altitude balloons.)

  • $\begingroup$ The amount of pressure necessary to contain an explosion would be so high that you're talking obscene levels that would be hostile to life as we know it. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2017 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison There's nothing about pressure that's inherently a problem for life. We are adapted for a certain pressure but life lives in the deep sea without problems. There's no reason it couldn't live in much more pressure. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2017 at 4:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Except higher pressure makes explosives more effective, not less. A denser atmosphere will cause shrapnel to lose power more quickly due to air resistance but the actual shockwave will travel further faster and carry more of its power before dissipating. To put it another way, an M67 grenade has an effective range of 15 meters in air; beyond that the fragments are slow enough to not cause significant injury and actual shockwave from the explosion would do you no harm at all. Be in a pool and someone drops a grenade in the other end and you could be killed by the shockwave. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2017 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ Or consider an automobile: the explosion that occurs inside the cylinder of an average car with a 10:1 compression ratio takes place at a pressure of over 200 psi (equivalent to about 450 feet underwater). The operation of the engine depends on the fact the explosion is more efficient at higher pressure. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2017 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison That isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to the pressure I'm thinking of. Looking through a list of explosives the highest detonation pressure I'm finding is 389 kbar. How much boom do you get if the ambient pressure is a megabar? $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2017 at 2:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .