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Gunless Stars

"Gunless Stars" was written by engineer and historian Moshe Kalu. It is an entry-level sociology book aiming at answering a simple, yet often eluded question: why are firearms so rare in human space? Why are they mostly confined to law enforcement and militaries, with regular civilians having little to no understanding of guns and civilian firearms themselves being exceedingly rare?

Firearms, posits Kalu in the introduction, are still among the deadliest and most effective personal weapons ever made. Electromagnetic small arms (railguns and coilguns) remain too power-hungry and complex for regular use, and lasers are too weak in atmosphere to be used as personal weapons. Modern guns, on the contrary, have benefited for six hundred years of incremental improvements and remain ubiquitous on battlefields, from the slow-burning wars of the Serene Sea to the special operations against eldritch Sequence remnants. However, there is another constant: the average civilian in human space has generally never seen a live gun in their life, let alone used one. There are about nine billion inhabitans on Earth and beyond, and three hundred million registered firearms in active use. About 95% of those are used by law enforcement and militaries.

So where did the guns go, ask Kalu? First, they fell victim to heavily restrictive gun laws, many of which implemented since the post-apocalyptic Low Age, where weapons control in local communities would be very strict. Be it in the Earth's superpowers or in interstellar polities, it is almost impossible for a civilian to legally acquire anything deadlier than a single-shot, manually reloaded rifle -- even including "antique" Low Age guns that may not be microchipped and marked like modern ones. However, adds Kalu, pure legal limitations are not sufficient in the age of 3D printing. While illegal, it is not terribly hard to 3D print effective firearms, and regulating the blueprints has proven almost impossible. This means people, in general, choose not to arm themselves with guns. Why is that?

In Kalu's eyes, this is a matter of culture first and foremost. From a historical standpoint, the majority of humans since the mid-Low Age, three centuries ago, have never seen a live firearm, let alone shot one. Guns are just not part of the popular consciousness. For most, they remain firmly in the realm of fantasy, having no more (and in fact, arguably less, as we'll see later) presence than medieval swords. The vast majority of regular citizens would not know how to properly operate a firearm. Personal guns are not seen as a valid way of opposing the government, even in the most anarchic places: self-reliance and the ability to deploy and administer systems of community governance are seen as far more reliable than weapons -- especially considering that, in many polities, the central government would outright collapse if it went against the bottom-up communes and cooperatives. Revolutions don't need a single shot, except in active low-intensity war zones, such as the Serene Sea (but those are different context altogether, argues Kalu). Conducting home defense with guns is not even part of anyone's mental space, and law enforcement is very rarely armed either. In general, argues Kalu, the absence of firearms in human space is thus the result of a feedback cycle: guns are historically not familiar to people, and in return this absence from the collective consciousness makes them very rare, simply because they aren't part of the broader human culture. Firearms are the tools of the community and, by extension, the state. Not of the individual.

Interestingly enough, it doesn't mean *other* kinds of weapons are absent, which is why Kalu doesn't necessarily consider modern human civilisation as a "society of personal peace" as some have theorized. The cultural exclusion of firearms has made close combat weapons, as well as bows and crossbows, quite widely used by criminals and fringe groups alike, both for their cultural value and practicality -- tracking down a knife or a bow is vastly harder than a modern gun and a modern military-grade crossbow is effectively a small, silent anti-personel missile launcher. Many planets have civilian martial traditions centered around close combat weapons, with zero-g fighting styles even existing among spacer populations. While rare, leisure hunting of wild animals generally relies on modern bows and boar spears. On Elora, the second largest populated planet in human space, several cultures even hold melee weapons as significant markers of social and gender roles. It is not uncommon to offer someone a sword or spear in celebration of a gender transition -- and that weapon is not just ceremonial, even though carrying weapons in public is not a widespread tradition.

This partly explains, notes Kalu, why firearm designs tended to stagnate somewhat, while non-firearm weapons have seen plenty of adaptations in the interstellar age, from short spears for zero-g combat to shamshirs made of Eloran coral.

Illustration: Eclipse Phase RPG, Posthuman Studios, CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0. 

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