What Will Handguns Look Like in 100 Years?

I have written in the thriller and ‘cruel tales’ genre but speculative fiction isn’t something I approach. The editor asked for a look into the future. The result is speculative but not fiction, a report based on fact and experience. The assignment took more research notebooks and drafts than I first imagined.

A delve into the past came first, then a look at how guns have changed in 100 years, and finally a look at trends. This helped me to speculate on firearms of the future. I am not qualified to comment on military rifles and development and will save that for another day or perhaps a writer (editor) named Dr. Dave will work that one up.

Short barreled magnum caliber revolver with cows in the background
A short, light magnum of some type will be in use, unless we are very wrong.

Just the same, the military usually fights a war with the firearms of the previous conflict sometimes much further back, so we may make some predictions. Handguns tend to last a long time and I have concentrated on my specialty, handguns.

The 1911, Walther PPK, and Smith & Wesson Military and Police are just a few handguns that have survived for several decades. They have been in continuous use and remain on the front line today. Even the Single Action Army is in daily use in America.

I will touch on shotguns. Shotguns have changed quite a bit as far as looks. I’ll grant you that. However, 100 years ago the pump action, recoil-operated automatic, and double-barrel shotgun were firmly established. The shotgun has come to the point that a reliable and fast handling shotgun may be had for a very reasonable price and do decent all-around duty. The Benelli is a highly-elevated war fighter.

Pump-action shotguns remain a model of reliability. In fact, as I write this, laid across my lap is a Marlin 1898 pump action. The Marlin features a bolt release that is handier than most modern shotguns, an inertia lock and firing pin block. In common with quite a few guns of the era, including the famous Winchester 1911 ‘widowmaker’ shotgun, the Marlin is dangerous if mishandled. But what animal or machine isn’t?

Shotguns have advanced a great deal in material and reliability not to mention easily changeable choke tubes. In the future, I predict the shotgun may gain more ground as a hunting gun for medium-size game as hunting areas become more crowded.

Hudson 9mm pistol with the barrel thread protector removed
The Hudson was a remarkably modern pistol combining excellent features of modern handguns. It didn’t make it.

More development in slugs is likely. Detachable magazine shotguns will probably be recognized as less desirable than tube-magazine shotguns, due to poor handling and limited (practical) capacity. Shotguns will probably be supplied with a spare slug barrel more often, and a truly effective screw-in rifled slug stabilizer will be offered.  

I am not imagining a dystopian future, but one with relatively the same crime and violence and today. Two to four percent of the population in most areas are active criminals. They outnumber the police and are a nuisance and dangerous, but tightening of laws is sometimes a detriment to liberty. That is fodder for another report.

I don’t have a crystal ball, only a sense of history and common sense. Speculative writers of the prewar era failed to predict the three stage rocket, nuclear bomb, and the X 15 — and they were pretty smart. Star Trek’s Bones never checked alien DNA and Spock didn’t have a smartphone. There is always the brilliant discovery that blunts our plans for the future.

9mm .38 and .357 cartridges
The 9mm .38, and .357 should still be in use.

Firearm Design

If we press this report into a time capsule (Better print it out, storage methods change often… Can you still read a floppy disk?) I have perhaps a 10 percent chance of getting it right. As an example, I read a decent space epic in which the main protagonist was stranded on a 1980s earth. The author was writing the story in 1948.

The hero went in a shop and purchased a .410 revolver, something that did not exist in the writer’s time but is common today. Sure, he predicted the Taurus Judge, but the writer missed one thing…there was no special paperwork to purchase the handgun. A 4473 did not exist in his day. So, look at the whole picture.

Economy will be a big point in the future. Metal guns will be increasingly expensive barring another industrial revolution of some type and polymer doesn’t seem to have a viable substitute. Handguns are handheld. So is a bayonet. I believe it to be likely that handguns survive in combat use — at least as long as the bayonet has.

Beretta Model 92 9mm pistol circa 1970
The 1970s era Beretta 92, based on the 1938 Walther P 38, is still going strong!

The average gun will be polymer or something very similar while steel will be more expensive. I don’t think complex operating mechanisms will survive. The double-action first-shot self-loader is probably in its last generation. Pistols will probably be offered with and without a manual safety and the safety may be used or ignored.

Lightweight materials are plentiful, but the kick of the beast becomes too much for most shooters, so the size and weight of present firearms is probably the basic template that will survive. After all, the Colt 1903 and Smith and Wesson Equalizer serve the same purpose, but the modern gun is more effective.


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Each is a single-action handgun with concealed hammer, manual safety, and grip safety. The material is much different. Sam Colt specified pocket, belt, and service revolvers. No surprises there. Size, weight, and grip circumference are dictated by the human interface and should not change much.

The polymer revolution gave us a great material. Polymer is light, doesn’t require coating or finishing, and features good natural lubricity.  In revolvers, aluminum is cheap enough and will remain a primary material.

Future Ammunition

As for ammunition, combustible propulsion is the only viable choice. Advancing from loose ammunition to rimfire and then centerfire ammunition, we have stayed with brass case ammunition almost exclusively. Steel and polymer cased ammunition is cheap but not ideal.

four cutaway cartridge cases made of brass, aluminum, steel
Alternate material for brass may make an appearance. At present brass steel and aluminum seem to have a long life ahead of them.

Perhaps steel and polymer non-reusable cartridge cases will be more common. The Volcanic pistol used caseless ammunition long before the Civil War, and the German Air Force developed electrically-fired ammunition before World War II. Remember, the electrically-fired Remington EntroX? No? Good.

I have tried to remove it from memory as well. The brass-cased central primer cartridge is simply too good to replace. Perhaps all-copper and brass bullets will more or less replace lead core, or perhaps not. It is a good bet the 9mm and .38 will be on the shelves in 2123.

Ammunition reliability has been solved for a long time. Winchester was producing military ammunition with a failure/reject rate of less than one in 100,000 in 1916. I have fired .32 Rimfire over 100 years old with a high success rate. Reliability is no longer a concern. While caseless ammunition may have a future, it remains to be seen.

Ruby .32 ACP semi-automatic pistol circa 1916
This Ruby .32 circa 1916 still functions and feeds. Will modern polymer frame handguns be in service in 2123?

The history of handguns shows that inventions with real innovation, but grounded in reality, are successful. Economy plays a huge part. Targeted sound applications or weaponized drones probably won’t be available, so the handgun will remain.

I have lived long enough to see the promising Hudson — a victim of a comedy of error — go belly up not to mention the Bren Ten (a questionable bit of business at best), and the ill-fated Rogak P18. Not to mention the Gyro Get and Dardick.

Instantly-effective stun guns are postulated in the JD Robb thrillers set in 2060 or so. They seem not to shoot electric darts but some type of particle. Unlike some authors, J D Robb doesn’t concentrate on weapons and simply mentions ‘she drew her weapon’ or something like that. Therefore, she doesn’t make glaring errors, an intelligent decision.

1917 Smith and Wesson revolver
Someone will make a living refurbishing older firearms we are certain as they become more expensive. This is a still serving 1917 Smith and Wesson. New springs, refinish and a shortened barrel.

The stories are excellent procedural and dramatic works. As one associate pointed out during my research, the stun gun firing an electrical field doesn’t sound too bad. If you miss and light up an innocent, well, they will only be sore at you and have a bit of muscle pain the next day.

We are a long way from modulating electric waves in a short range device. We can fry a man, but not easily subdue him. Thermobaric weapons also seem far-fetched. Despite the deadly efficiency of a flare gun in the movies, most flares would simply bounce off a person. More handguns will be of modular construction as is the case with the SIG P320, Masada 9mm, and Beretta APX. This simply makes sense.

Perhaps, the same firearm will be morphed from a sub-compact to a full-size pistol or even a carbine. I don’t think we will see Blade Runner guns with two barrels, one with a lethal load and the other with non-lethal. Tragedies have occurred because peace officers cannot keep their taser and 9mm separated — or so they say. I do not foresee a single platform with the option to fire both lethal and non-lethal, selected by the user.

Standard manufacturing double barrel Strike .22 Mag revolver
The double-barrel Strike is a niche firearm intended for very short range use. Will we see more of these? Doubtless!

The double-barrel Strike .22 Magnum, as an example, is among the most difficult handguns I have ever attempted to use. It is an oddity at best and should die a quite death (in my person opinion, yours may vary). Just the same, we will see more of them.

Law enforcement may evolve mob control drones, but the handgun will remain the same. The Glock will probably dominate the market for at least another 50 years. Gas and electric flechettes are not instantly effective, so they will not replace the cartridge gun. Handguns are likely to remain standard issue for a very long time.

Features and Accessories

Quite a few changes have been made based on consumer appetite and for aesthetics, more than function. Bling is good and a fine reason for purchasing a firearm. A huge change came with aluminum material, then stainless steel, and finally polymer. It would be hard to predict what comes next.

Mossberg Shockwave shotgun and orange case
New options for the Shockwave include a 20-gauge version with a flat dark earth Cerakote finish and a 12-gauge JIC (Just In Case) Shockwave that comes with a water-resistant storage carry tube.

Anti-corrosion coatings are almost incredibly effective, and many are self-lubricating. These coatings are a good thing for longevity and reliability. Handgun iron sights operate on the same principle as 100 years ago but have enjoyed great improvement including the addition of self-luminous Tritium.

Target and combat sights are more similar than ever before. But optical sights are becoming popular. Holosun has a red dot that is solar powered, and Ruger has a red dot with no battery at all —it’s kind of like the old Quik Point.

Here is my most far out prediction. Eventually, optical sights will fold into the slide and pop out on demand for a heads-up type of display. Not that difficult, really. NcStar presently offers a flip-up red dot lens. More to come on this interesting subject.

NcStar flip-up
NcStar is already offering a flip-up red dot. What comes next — miniaturization?

As for combat lights, most of us agree they add unnecessary bulk to the pistol, but some shooters and security personnel find them essential. I predict service pistols will feature a powerful but miniaturized combat light — sooner than you think. After all the Wespi combat searchlight was available 100 years ago. So, it is just a matter of time until the combat light is powered up with a pen light size.

Will pistols gain in magazine capacity? We finally have rimfire handguns with 20-round capacity. We have quite a few service-size 9mm handguns with 20-round capacity. The problem is going much larger, and we will have a pistol that feels like a 2×4 in the hand, something we already have in multitude.

As early as 1930, Llama had a 20-shot .32 caliber self-loader. I am not sure how that type of thing was of any value, but today’s pistols are far more effective. Thirteen rounds in a sub-compact, 15 rounds in a compact, and up to 20 rounds in a service pistol is easily attainable with a good firing grip in 9mm caliber.

20-shot Llama .32 ACP semi-auto handgun made in 1922
Llama marketed a 20-shot .32 ACP in 1922. High capacity is nothing new.

I suppose a 30-shot .30 Super Carry isn’t out of the question and seems a good bet for the occasional shooter. Magazines may be polymer-coated metal for the most part or very thin sheet metal.

As for operating systems, blowback for the .22 LR to .380 ACP and locked breech for larger calibers seems fixed in efficiency. Gas-retarded blowback in the HK P7M8 is reliable and the Walther CCP has had some success with a similar pistol. The problem… this action isn’t reliable with a wide range of bullet weights and velocities.

I have tested these pistols, and while the P7M8 will run forever with some loads, it will not run at all with others. The same goes for the Walther CCP. Each is a specialist’s gun. Blow forward is dead, and it seems that only gas operation in a pistol is fertile — if the engineers can get it right.

Smith and Wesson’s 5.7 is an innovation. Blowback and locked breech are here to stay. Will there be a revival of the automatic revolver? It seems promising with modern technology. There is increasing interest in Lite Rack and EZ Rack slides. Perhaps a modification of the HK roller block action in a compact pistol will be designed.

Smith and Wesson M&P 5.7x28
Smith and Wesson M&P 5.7×28

I predict a sharper distinction between the roles of the revolver and self-loader. The revolver will be a utility gun for dispatching pests and small game hunting. Small revolvers will be popular for pocket carry, but as for the larger defense-based revolvers, much less so. The problem is expense.

One major maker added a gun lock to the action and went to MIM parts in the operating mechanism making this revolver unacceptable for service use (for many of us). Ruger offers superbly-reliable revolvers at increasing prices. Kimber and Chiappa have arguably made older service and defense guns obsolete with their modern vision of the revolver.

Shortages are predictable and we will certainly see more. The 9mm and .38 will remain baselines. The .45 ACP will hang on. There are cartridges with excellent performance — the .40 S&W and .41 Magnum — that will not prosper and become footnotes in history along with the .38-40 and .41 Colt. The .22 Long Rifle has been with us for 136 years, so what is another 100 years?

.22 LR, 9mm Luger, and .45 ACP hollow points
The .22 LR (left) is much smaller than the 9mm Luger (middle) and .45 ACP (right). Each has its own purpose and will likely still be in use 100 years from now.

While I think that specialization is good, most of us cannot afford specialization. This means fewer calibers and that isn’t a bad thing. The .25 ACP and .32 ACP will probably wither away. The 10mm will remain a specialist cartridge. While the .45 Super was a great round, the 10mm seems to have displaced quite a few contenders. The availability of so many calibers is more a sign of prosperity and good marketing than a real need.

The modern pistol in 2123 will be a mid-size polymer-frame pistol with a folding optical sight, self-luminous iron sights, a grip that fits most hands well, and a lightning fast lock time brought on by technology. It will be easily racked and loaded. An effective recoil control device, similar to the old Hart’s Recoil Reducer, may be incorporated into the recoil spring assembly.

I don’t see a resurgence of lasers, but who knows. In the wild or when hiking, we will carry a powerful double-action-only revolver with a grip of recoil absorbing material that separates the hand from metal. So those are the facts and my vision of future. Slip this in a time capsule if you wish. More importantly, I am certain there is something I have missed. Please share your thoughts and your predictions.

At over 110 years old, the 1911 is still going strong and true to John Moses Browning’s original design. Which guns, calibers, accessories do you believe shooters will be using in 100 years? Share your answers in the comment section.

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