I’ve been thinking about the problem of guns far too much lately, and the underlying issue is that they are all but inevitable as a piece of technology, and once they are developed, you’re sort of stuck with them as a weapon. So I’m going that route in terms of the main weapons within my series, but there are two problems that are bothering me.

The first is about that of endorsement, especially considering the American politics of gun violence. It really seems hard to portray guns in a way that doesn’t endorse them one way or another, because they are so effective. It’s sort of like the argument that there is no such thing as a true anti-war film, because anyone who watches them will come away thinking it is cool.

The second problem is that guns mean that there is a single means of fighting that will generally dominate. Unlike an example like Avatar’s bending (plus boomerang) in which there are a large number of options for characters to fight, you can’t really have a combat-oriented character use anything other than guns as their primary weapon. While martial arts and other things can work in certain cases, they don’t work broadly as a universal solution in the way that guns do. This is made even worse because guns dictate that ambush tactics are the only ones worth using. If one side gets the drop on the other, they should almost certainly win. It just doesn’t lead to interesting fight scenes as easily.

-Adam Reynolds

Hey Adam, great to hear from you again!

Thank you for concisely explaining why I either set all my stories at tech levels too low for modern guns, or just make ignoring them one of the central conceits and then never mention them again. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for every story. Not every story can be set before the 1800s, when firearms began to clearly outstrip any other weapon available. Likewise, pretending guns don’t exist can work okay for masquerade-based urban fantasy, but it’ll feel weird in other genres.

If you’re stuck with guns, there are still a few options that can work, but you have to be very careful with them. A lot of superheroes are bullet proof, for example, which allows their fight scenes to be more interesting. Of course, then you have to give a plausible reason for why something other than a gun can hurt them, which a lot of super stories fail to do. Alternatively, if you set a story far enough in the future, you might have advanced enough tech to make guns less prevalent. If your heroes fight by controlling swarms of nanites, for example, then a firearm looks a lot less useful.

Other than that, your best option for making gunfights interesting is to focus on tactics and movement. There’s a lot more to winning a modern battle than pointing and shooting. Movies and films often have difficulty showing the complex maneuvers that go into a battle, but written works have an easier time there. If your hero does nothing but hide behind cover while taking pot shots, that’ll be boring. But if they have to lead a desperate flanking action over rough terrain, that’s a lot more interesting.

As for endorsing them, I think that ship has already sailed. Guns are everywhere in American media, so portraying your character using them effectively isn’t going to significantly add to that. However, there are certain things you can do to avoid making the problem worse:

  • Avoid fetishizing specific real-world guns, especially the AR-15.
    • Thor: Ragnarok does this and it’s really irritating.
  • Don’t have plots where the character’s problems come from gun control.
    • Like a zombie story where the survivors are doomed because of restrictions on private firearm ownership.
  • Show the character observing proper gun safety.
    • Film characters are always casually sweeping each other with their weapon’s arc of fire and it drives me up the wall.
  • Be realistic about how guns operate.
    • A lot of Americans idolize guns without really considering how they work, even people who actually own guns.
    • Show that they need repair, show that they jam, show that they can damage your hearing.

None of this will fix America’s gun violence problem, but they can make sure your story isn’t pushing any particularly toxic ideas.

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!

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