Hello, I have a question about guns. My story is set in a world that recently invented guns, so the designs are flawed. Is it reasonable for a gun (something small like a pistol) to jam when fired and explode in someone’s hand? And how much damage would the explosion cause?

“Yes,” and, having their hand, “turned into something resembling goulash,” comes to mind. Though, “jamming,” is probably the wrong mental image.

It’s probably worth remembering, early guns were little more than a hollow metal tube and (sometimes) a handle, which you’d manually fire by touching off the powder with a burning object (called a match, but it’s not equivalent to modern matches at all.)

If a gun was poorly forged, over loaded with powder, or had something obstructing the barrel, it was possible for a gun to misfire or detonate in the user’s hand or face.

These were strictly single shot weapons. Powder had to be poured, by hand, followed by forcing the bullet down the barrel.

Depending on what evidence you take, the first guns originate in the 12th or 13th century. And, they pretty much stayed that way for a long time. There were numerous technological advances. But, the gun remained (primarily) a single shot weapon for nearly 600 years. If guns are a new technology in your setting, you’re probably not going to be looking at having issues like jamming. (At least not the familiar concept.)

It’s probably worth considering, that self feeding firearms didn’t become a practical option until the transition from black powder to smokeless in the late-19th century.

Put another way; we’ve been shooting people for eight centuries, we’ve had auto-loading firearms for a little over one.

There’s also a terminology hickup that can confuse people. Handgun is not a modern term, however, using it to refer to pistols is far more recent. Early handguns were longarms. The name meant you could carry and fire the gun by hand, not that it was a small compact weapon. As I recall, the first pistols didn’t appear for around a century after the introduction of the handgun. I could be wrong on that number, by the way, it might be as fast as a couple decades. They were roughly contemporary with the development of the matchlock as I recall. (But, this specific era of the timeline is something I’m a little shaky on.)

Based on the actual development of guns, if your setting just developed guns within the last couple decades, you’re looking at something more like a pole arm, that has to be manually loaded, and then the powder is set off using a match.

As you get to the point where guns have been around for 50 years to a century, you’ll start seeing firearms where the match is mounted to the gun, and a trigger mechanism ignites a flashpan of powder by dropping a lit match (usually a piece of slow burning cord at this point. (A fingertip sized, shallow bowl, mounted on the side of the gun, usually with an articulated cover).

At roughly two centuries out, you’ll start seeing rifled barrels, which are far more accurate, but require additional time and effort to load. You’ll also start to see flintlocks.

At five centuries, you’ll start to see the introduction of percussion caps, and something that looks more like what you’d consider a firearm. This would be followed by early revolvers, and pre-sealed center-fire cartridges. This would allow for the first manually cycled repeating firearms, and make rifled firearms practical for combat usage. This would also, roughly, match the introduction of the shotgun.

As you get into the sixth century, you’ll see the first double action firearms (where each pull of the trigger can recock the hammer), and the development of semi-automatic firearms.

I’m skimming over the evolution of how society and the military viewed guns, for instance, most militaries opposed the introduction of repeating firearms because they feared their soldiers would recklessly burn through ammunition, straining their logistical support. But, that’s a lot more open for your worldbuilding. Still, it’s something you might want to look into and research further.

-Starke

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