Laser Control & Futuristic Weapons

Without a doubt, eventually, someday, we’ll figure out a way to pack enough energy into a small enough space to basically render ordinary firearms obsolete. Indeed, materials technology is nearing the point, probably by the middle of this century, where body armor will be effective enough that standard small arms will not penetrate it, and light enough to be worn without too much burden.

But which technology would supplant the firearm? Well, lasers are one possibility. For various reasons, I think the least likely, but it’s interesting to take a look at the current legal regulations concerning lasers. From Sam’s Laser FAQ, we have:

Please don’t give the legislators ideas. Sales of lasers are unregulated except for medical and laser show systems, and a few systems under export controls. For all other systems, you just have to register as a manufacturer if you’re making them for public sales and submit your product for compliance, and maintain records of who it was initially sold to in case there is a need for a recall.

Of course, this is just the federal level. Apparently a few states regulate lasers.

NOW, where the crap hits the fan is at the state level. New York records the serial number of all lasers and requires licensed operators, transferring a laser in NY above class II to another citizen of NY without reregistering the unit is an offense. Transporting a laser through NY or selling it out of state from NY is not however a offense. Texas and Arizona have user fees to pay for their states radiologic safety programs, etc. I’m told by a friend that AZs fees are quite steep, on the order of $1,500 a year for large industrial lasers and that AZ inspects laser shows rather thoroughly. Other states may vary, but generally unless they have made misuse of pointers a issue, there are no worries except in NY and AZ. Possession is not illegal and they don’t deny permits to register in those states. However, they may disqualify a person who fails to pass the test.

Arizona is surprising. New York not so much, because New York likes to regulate everything. I don’t think you can take a dump in New York without a permit.

As I said, I think lasers are not likely to supplant firearms, because they take a lot of energy to be powerful enough to damage someone or something. Burning a hole through someone, other than through a vital organ, isn’t really all that serious, plus you could armor something just by putting a mirror on it.

What I think will likely supplant firearms are electromagnetic weapons. These are more commonly known as rail guns or gauss guns. While I don’t think these will supplant small arms for quite some time, they will probably start to appear on ships and heavy artillery platforms by the middle of the century. But if we ever figured out how to pack a lot of energy into a small space, in theory you could make a man portable electromagnetic weapon that could punch through tank armor. The ironic thing is, if you did this today, your device, as best I can tell, would be completely unregulated in most states (New Jersey, you’d still need an FID, sorry). But imagine an arm you could adjust a power setting on: low for taking out soft targets, and high for busting through hardned targets.

But I’m sure if you had one of those, it wouldn’t be long before the VPC and Brady’s would start preaching the evils of electromagnetism, and the need to ban assault magnets. It’ll come someday. You heard it here first.  Ooops, maybe you didn’t hear it here first.