I've never fired a weapon but the design of Star Trek Phasers looks a little bit strange and uncomfortable to me (not the rifles though).

If we account for the no recoil effect of particle weapons and looking at the designs for Phasers for different eras of Star Trek, how easy would it be to hold and fire those phasers as compared with real fire arms of today? Does it resembles some kind of realistic approach or they are just made that way to look fancy?

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    Probably more realistic than the way they hold flashlights. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 13:22
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    I remember somewhere that I read the cast complained that they don't know how they are supposed to aim the phaser props in a way that the post production people can insert a plausible beam. That's why the later developed phaser rifle props got proper sights. Unfortunately I don't remember the source.
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 15:05
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    @PeteBecker No, not really
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 21:52
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    I've seen quite a few different phaser designs in the star trek universe. Can you attach a picture of the ones you're talking about?
    – Octopus
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 22:32

4 Answers 4


Having been paid to shoot and teach shooting for several years...

As Tritium21 points out, very much about the way we handle projectile weapons is based on two things:

  1. The stability and intuitive position required to aim the weapon
  2. The stability required to recover from firing (whether that means maneuver to acquire a second, cover oneself from harm after loosing a shot, or recovering from recoil to line up a second shot)

This is true in one way or another all the way from darts to throwing knives to javelins to atlatls to slings to bows to firearms to actual energy weapons in use today.

But a pure energy weapon has no recoil

The recovery time is whatever the recharge would entail. No idea what this winds up being in the Star Trek world, but we'll just assume its close to zero and they can shoot as much as they want... because, um... science. (That said, after personal experience with capacitor-driven microwave weapons, this could be significantly annoying.)

So that leaves us with #1, and that is mostly about lining up the shot and maintaining stability during the pull. In this case the "pull" will be a button press instead of a draw, swing or trigger-pull, but the weapons themselves appear to be incredibly lightweight -- which means either the triggers are really, really lightweight themselves (sort of scary, considering what the business end can do) or are incredibly well aligned with the natural motions of the fingers and the lines of tension exerted from whatever is defined as a "proper" grip.

This, by the way, is critical in pistol and rifle shooting. In fact, there are certain types of shooting where there is a direct parallel: slow-aimed-fire. Anything from match pistol, match rifle, Olympic-style bialthon (which uses a .22 cal weapon), benchrest and the new "lightgun" style used for the (ridiculously dumbed down modern rules of) pentathlon.

In all of these cases either a single shot is going out and it counts for everything, or the shooter is given a relatively huge amount of time to line up follow-on shots (so recoil isn't a factor aside from not hurting the shooter, as in the extreme range competitions where the guns kick a little harder than normal). The triggers on these weapons are as light as mechanics (or rules) permit, the grips are highly specialized to assist a shooter in locking the weapon to the body but with as little linear contact as possible, and the shooter assumes as stable a position as possible.

OTOH, close-range tactical shooting is rarely slow-aimed-fire. (Which is why the standard U.S. Army pistol test is not at all a reflection of combat competency but our old SFARTAETC "stress test", while still flawed, is much better -- and neither hold a candle to Bill Rogers' "reactive range" tests.)

Its all about body position

The importance of the stability of the firing position and grip cannot be understated because the trigger-pull itself is what will throw your shot. If you happen to have a laser pointer handy, turn it on, point it at a wall at least 10 feet away, and just see how steadily you can hold it on a 1-inch circle without doing anything else. Then try it sitting down. Then raise a knee sitting down and rest your hand on that. Then do it while breathing deeply. Then lay down and try it.

The magical answer to your question comes when you try the same exercise as above, but this time apply some stiff pressure from a finger into your grip. Try different fingers. Try pushing, sliding, pressing, yanking in different directions with different fingers, and watch what happens to your laser point (protip: it'll go totally wild most of the time).

To be even more accurate, put something similar to a Star Trek phaser -- like a TV remote -- in your hand and tape the laser pointer to it. See how steadily you can maintain your point of aim as you press buttons on it. This will tell you a lot about how practical the grip in the shows is.

My two cents

My suspicion is that its not a a good grip for an energy weapon unless they always lock the wrist bones down at the same angle and fully stress the ligaments on top, which sucks to do for more than a few seconds. I can't imagine that this would work out well in practice. Oh, did I mention, shoulder joints are inherently unstable...

Also, two hands always beats one; you can limit fundamental instability to just one dimension instead of three, and use opposing tension within a two-handed, cupped grip to stabilize the weapon as the trigger is pulled/button pressed/whatever. This is why gangsta-grip tends to result in a lot of sky-high fliers or ankle-level shots, even at very close range (for a right-hander they tend to be very high to the right or very low to the left -- but we're all quirky little snowflakes, which is why it is impossible to design "the perfect trigger/grip" pair).

...Unless they actually use a mental or voice activation we're not aware of. Or a button in the other hand. Or computer activation. Or... you get the idea. This would be totally badass and is the way to do high precision shots properly. But even then, its hard to hold a laser pointer at something very long with the confidence that you will destroy it (and only it) when the thing goes off when doing so with just one hand.

...Unless the energy weapon is itself somehow auto-aimed within a certain degree of accuracy. Considering we are trending toward modern weapons of this form today, I think its somewhat safe to retcon this aspect of mechanical assistance in accuracy into the Trek world.

EDIT: Something I failed to notice or mention initially, but grew curious about checking out a few Star Trek clips is that they appear to often be pointing the weapon with one hand and activating the trigger with the thumb. This is a terrible idea. The only reason we have triumphed over the other apes is our brains, but our further success over dolphins is due exclusively to our thumbs. There is only one on each hand. Without a very specialized grip that permits pressure from the metacarpal of the thumb to be the exclusive opposing retainer to all four gripping fingers (which is actually possible, but very tiring/cramp prone in practice -- srsly, try it), using a thumb to activate the trigger is almost a guarantee that you will throw your shot.

...and we'll just forget about those pesky aiming devices...

Something I did not address at all, but is absolutely critical, is the concept of "sight picture". There appear to be no sights on these things at all. Something the size of a TV remote can unhinge a bank vault door, but it apparently lacks a reliable aiming mechanism for all that power. Man, I sure hope these guys practice a lot, because they are always shooting from the hip. Shooting from the hip can be rather accurate though, out to about 25 yards. But beyond that the law of squares just eats you for lunch... (an inch off-target at 10m is how many inches off-target at 500m? You need sights on your scary-powerful energy weapon)

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    @Sklivvz Indeed. I wrote this mostly with the banana-lasers in mind (which seems to be the explicit intent of the OP), but figured a bit more background in marksmanship would give the OP a better picture of what is involved in judging a firing posture. A lot more goes into shooting than "point and click", and much of the detail is not usually obvious to a non-shooter (and even most shooters).
    – zxq9
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 16:11
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    Unless the energy weapon is itself somehow auto-aimed within a certain degree of accuracy - I have a very vague recollection of this being mentioned somewhere
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 21:57
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    @Izkata In this case I think it is a horrible mistake to even have them be hand operated. A much more practical arrangement is integration with a collar or headgear for carriage (leaving the operator hands-free whether engaged or not), auto-aim based on tracking eye movement, and fire triggered by either a muscle trigger or neuro-trigger. We're working on such things today, so I would assume they are pretty ordinary in the far future, especially with recoilless directed energy weapons.
    – zxq9
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 22:15
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    @LorenPechtel Considering that they don't have to hit the target accurately, the hazard inherent in hitting the wrong target drastically increases. On the range we tend to face rather sterile firing environments (outside of advanced training), but in the real world I've rarely been presented with a totally clean, completely unambiguous environment downrange of my weapon. Confusion reigns: your buddy just fell in front of you and might not know to stay down until someone behind him picks him up and so is rising into your shot, kids run out of doorways suddenly, you trip on stuff, etc.
    – zxq9
    Commented Sep 5, 2015 at 2:59
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    @LorenPechtel Please not I'm not at all disagreeing with you at all -- my point is that absolute destruction is a double-edged sword, and the backswing of that particular issue will have to be taken into account by the procurement, design, evaluation and training sections of an organization employing this weapon.
    – zxq9
    Commented Sep 5, 2015 at 3:00

Having fired a weapon is not a prerequisite to answer this question. Shooting stance (with real firearms) aids in aiming and compensating for recoil. Phasers, on the other hand, have no recoil, and in some incarnations of the show, have targeting computers. But this is easy to test yourself, with a laser pointer.

enter image description here

If you hold a laser pointer in the same way that O'Brien is holding his in this picture, you get a clear view down the body of the weapon. If you press the laser pointer, you should (and I do, but I cannot create a video of myself to show this) hit whatever it is you are aiming at. It is relatively easy to aim such a weapon at close range.

This experiment does fail on one point, however. My laser pointer is a straight cylinder, not a banana shape. The banana shape of TNG and later era phasers make them MUCH more comfortable to hold and aim. Just hold our your arm in line with your eye, and your hand will naturally fall into a position to hold the weapon.

This is not to mention the various times in the run of the series when hand phasers have or have not had targeting aids. This would be a very comfortable, and possibly very accurate weapon.

Comparing to a modern handgun is a little tricky though. The only handgun I have fired is a Colt M1911 which, in my hands, has a little bit of a kick. The handhold is a little uncomfortable to me, but if the grip were in the position a TNG era phaser used, I am sure I would have broken my wrist.

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    For a more accurate experiment, stick the laser pointer into a banana.
    – coredump
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 12:27
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    @coredump god damn beat me to it
    – Petersaber
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 12:30
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    @coredump "Into" not "onto"? That's a nasty image... thanks... thanks a lot.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 12:58
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    It's a good question about targetting aids. But there's a big difference between a phaser and a rifle or other sighted weapon: with the phaser you can correct while the beam is still on, so you don't need sights. It might even be tactically advantagous to cut the beam across a target rather than try to hit dead on with the first shot. +1 Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 14:18
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    @coredump You finally found something better than sharks with lasers strapped to their heads
    – IG_42
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 16:10

There are no sights on phasers, but everyone assumes they are manually aimed. I don't see any reason why that's true.

Here's how it works, I think: you point it in the general direction you want to shoot, you look at the thing you want to shoot at, and a camera on the top of the phaser using sophisticated eye tracking technology determines what you're looking at. Another camera on the front of the phaser (dangerous end) takes a picture of the target area and using advanced image recognition, programmed rules, and what your eyes are looking at, it determines what you want to shoot at. It then projects a targeting beam at the spot that it's selected, which the shooter can see. If the spot's on the right target, the shooter presses the button. The phaser doesn't have to be pointed exactly right, because the emitter uses phased array technology to steer the beam towards the target.

At least that's how I always envisioned it working.

Edited to Add

From DS9: Return to Grace:

KIRA: This is a standard issue, Cardassian phase-disruptor rifle. It has a four point seven megajoule power capacity, three millisecond recharge two beam settings.

ZIYAL: How do you know so much about Cardassian weapons?

KIRA: We captured a lot of them during the occupation. It's a good weapon, solid, simple. You can drag it through the mud and it'll still fire. Now this. (Federation phaser rifle.) This is an entirely different animal. Federation standard issue. It's a little less powerful, but it's got a more options. Sixteen beam settings. Fully autonomous recharge, multiple target acquisition, gyro stabilised, the works. It's a little more complicated, so it's not as good a field weapon. Too many things can go wrong with it.

I think that indicates there's more to a phaser than simply shooting a beam where you point it.

  • I really liked the phased array idea. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 9:59
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    Even if physically the phaser doesn't need to be pointed exactly, the beam needs to be pointed, in the case of phased arrays such pointing happens by moving something internally to the phaser or by computing phases for different waves wich results in the need of auotmatic aiming
    – user42298
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:32
  • Sorry but you're giving no Canon source for this answer and if I remember correctly there's evidence in canon this is NOT the way it actually works. Training in the holodeck (as we see multiple times) wouldn't make a lot of sense plus your system does not work as good as you think it would. What happens if there're two potential targets in close proximity? How does the phaser know which one to target... there's a lot of technology in ST but mind reading is not one of them Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 18:07
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    @JorgeCórdoba - I have seen at least one episode where they were training in the holodeck, and it still seemed like this is the way it must work. Clearly they weren't pointing them exactly at the target. It seemed to me that the training was all about proper focus on the target, and perhaps using consistent gestures, etc., to make sure the targeting system on the phaser was able to correctly interpret what you were looking it. You still have to physically point it in the general direction quickly, and focus your gaze on the target, see the target beam and press a button. It all needs practice. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:55
  • Which begs the question, despite a phaser's general level of sophistication and the potential of 24th century technology, how come so many miss using a phaser when aiming. Moreover, if very large phasers are installed on a ship with a super-sophisticated shipcomputer capable of near AI, how come ships firing at each other miss each other, often at close range?
    – Majte
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 2:29

Assuming energy weapons in the future have no recoil, holding them loosely is of no importance. Then again the actors were never trained in weapons utilization. Phasers were as much tools as they were weapons in the Star Trek series. Also various episodes show that phasers had "auto targeting" though they still missed. enter image description here

The phasers evolved over the progress of the series, resembling guns, then resembling wands tools. As the series progressed past TNG, proper hand holding of phasers and other weapons became more ergonomic for hands. Alien weapons on the other hand continued to resemble guns. There's no realistic way of holding a phaser, such technology doesn't exist but later models clearly showcase the weapon having black molded grips and continuing to curve to comfortably be held in the hand. Truthfully if I was designing a phaser I would study the ergonomics of prior firearms, where the defense industry spent years crafting firearms for adequate ergonomics. However NOT everyone in starfleet is Human so ergonomics must have given wave to practicality, a weapon that Any species in the Federation can hold adequately.

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