Guns after the Apocalypse

Assume a global catastrophy occurs which wipes out most of humanity, leaving only scattered bands of survivors. The survivors cannot maintain a significant technological infrastructure, but will for some time have modern knowledge and access to whatever they can scavange from ruined cities. When it comes to defending themselves against the bandit gangs, wild animals, radioactive mutants, or zombie hoards in their post-apocalyptic world, what options will our survivors be have for weapons?

What I’m really asking is several questions:

How long could a modern firearm be kept in working condition, assuming the person doing so has little or no access to replacement parts or decent machine tools? I imagine that a simple gun like a shotgun will last a lot longer than an automatic pistol or assault rifle, but I really don’t know much about guns.

How long will ammunition manufactured today last in storage?

How hard is it to make useable replacement ammunition for modern weapons with hand tools?

What kind of firearms can be built and maintained with modern knowledge and skill, but little to no access to electricity or industrial infrastructure?

Firearms can be kept in working order for a very long time if they are well cared for. Barrels will eventually wear out but that is after firing many thousands of cartridges. Spare parts can always be cannibalized from excess or broken weapons.

The main problem would be ammunition. Modern cartridges use smokeless powder and percussion primers, which would be difficult to manufacture. Ammunition can last for a long time in storage. You get an increasing amount of dud cartridges with old ammunition, but who is going to be picky about that?

Over the long haul, a flintlock would probably be the best choice. Black powder and lead balls are relatively easy to manufacture. I’m not sure where you can find flint, or how common it is.

Well made firearms have an extremely long useful life. I know people who regularly shoot 100+ year old guns in competition. Though some repair operations normally require machine shop tools a skilled gunsmith can do a lot with hand tools. A semi-auto version of a military patten weapon with a few strategic spares such as extractors, ejectors, etc. can be servicable for decades. Some are better choices than others. AR-15s are more elegant from an engineering standpoint but if I had to pick a weapon for “when the poop hits the propellor” it would be an AK type and/or an Uzi . Not so pretty but they go bang every time you pull the trigger. Oh, also a pump shotgun . Remington 870s have been built for 50 years so finding spares should not be a problem.

Odd as it may seem a “simple” weapon like a double barrel shotgun requires more precision fitting than a semi-auto. That isn’t to say they wear out and become dangerously loose quickly but are harder to repair.

Metallic ammunition can last last indefinately with proper storage. A lot of military ammunition is shipped in sealed cans and often the ammunition itself has a sealing compound over the primer and case neck to keep moisture out. The biggest problem is heat which can cause nitrocellulose propellant to break down and acidity. When this happens it can cause dangerously high and erratic pressures which could make a gun explode like a grenade.

A cousin had some .223 ammunition that had begun to acidify. The muzzle blast in my face on the next bench was so severe it felt like it was from a more powerful weapon with a muzzle brake. I realized what was happening when my eyes started to sting and water from the acidic smoke so I told him to stop shooting and dispose of that ammunition unless he intended to kill or injure himself.

Technically I make ammunition with hand tools but they are extremely specialized and I have the required components. You can’t load ammunition with vise grips and a screwriver. Lead bullets can be easily cast but casings cannot be homemeade apart from a few specialty cases that are machined from brass in very small quantities. Primers would be virtually impossible to make but fortunately lead styphnate primers are not sensitive to moisture and have an indefinate shelf life. I suppose a motivated person could make his own black powder but don’t expect to make a career out of it. An old saying is that black powder manufacturers need two factories. One to make powder and one to replace that one when, not if, it explodes.

Look around any set of railroad tracks.
You’ll find a piece, eventually.

dude, you gotta play fallout and fallout 2.

don’t rule out more primitive forms of guns. cannons can be made with out electicity, even metal ones. also, one can make a rather effective tree cannon out of a large tree trunk. cannons can be reloaded with black powder relatively easily considering you have the stuff (many pharmacies carry sulfur and saltpetre, so keep them in mind when you’re scavanging amongst the ruined buildings). also, a cannon does not neccessarily need a cannonball per say. grape shot was a perfectly horrific form of cannon shot that basically consisted of load the barrel with hundreds of ball bearings making the cannon a big shotgun and was one of the most feared things to be found on the early 19th century battlefield. one could also load the cannon with just spare scrap metal (nuts, bolts, nails, etc.). a cannon may not win for rapid fire, but it definitely wins for sheer power and simplicity.

Crossbows get the job done, & you can re-use the quarrels afterward.

Zip Guns…crudely made but effective firearms prisoners have been making
since the beginning of incarceration.

Military weapons, particularly Eastern Bloc ones, will last a very long time with minimal care. They are designed to function under difficult conditions with minimal care, again especially the Eastern Bloc ones. For the most part, if a small part breaks on a firearm, you could make a replacement with hand tools if you absolutely had to do so. I’ve seen guns that were repaired with crudely hand made parts that still functioned. The real limiting factor isn’t durability of the guns themselves as much as it is the scarcity of ammo.

Hence my crossbow remark.

A friend recently gave me a crossbow. It has a 150lb. pull. Some thoughts on crossbows for post apocalyptic fun n’ games:

  1. You basically aren’t going to string one without a bow press. I tried everything I could think of, including using the stringer from my recurve bow. Finally had to take it to an archery shop and pay them to string it.
  2. Crossbows are notoriously hard on strings, so you either have to have a bunch of them or be able to make more.
  3. The re-use of bolts is somewhat limited. On my foray w/ the bow, I lost several and bent several so badly that they were useless.
  4. Even with heavy crossbows, the useful range is pretty limited.

Now I have heard of a modified crossbow that flung lead or terra cotta bullets, but never seen one or even a picture of one. Something like that has real possibilities. Terra cotta bullets are something you could make in quantity and not worry about retrieving.