I've always thought it was a little odd that modern phasers don't have triggers, but have buttons instead.

Older phasers came with triggers, or at least something that very much resembled what we would call a trigger.

enter image description here

Sometime post model 2287, the Federation decided to ditch the trigger and use a button instead.

In-universe, do we have any idea why they would replace a trigger on the bottom with a button on the top?

Is there some sort of tactical advantage?

enter image description here

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    Pure fan-wank, but maybe the federation wanted their weapons to not look like weapons to maintain a more pacifist appearance? Many species' use the pistol-design for handheld weapons, so the old phasers were frequently recognized as weapons while the new phasers are not.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:15
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    I don't find this question to be well-formed. Because it is not mechanical, the thing you call a trigger is a button and the thing you call a button is a trigger. If you wanted to a question about the gun-type design vs. the remote-control-type design, that would make sense. Otherwise -1. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:17
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    @InguShama, seriously?! The difference between what Daft is calling a trigger or a button is only a consequence of the differing shape of the weapon overall. I fail to see why you think pointing that out is pedantic. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:21
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    @ThePopMachine in the earlier design, the trigger is underneath the barrel. In the later, the trigger is replaced by a button, which is positioned above the barrel. It's pretty straight forward...
    – Ingu Shama
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:24
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    Actually @ThePopMachine is correct in questioning the destinction: Technically, all of these triggers are buttons, i.e. things that have to be pushed in order to be triggered to send a signal of some sort as long as they are. The other way round, the buttons trigger the actual weapon to shoot. The pictures are correct in calling all these buttons with this specific use "trigger", ignoring overall design. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:34

4 Answers 4


The answer is in the picture you posted:

DISCREET WEAPON: During the 2360s Starfleet used a small "cricket" phaser that could be concealed easier.

The remote-control design with the fire-button on top and the horizontal grip is easier to conceal than the pistol-design with the vertical grip and the fire-button on the front. It looks less like a weapon and more like a tool. This makes it easier for Starfleet officers to appear as friendly and unarmed while they actually do carry a weapon.

Later designs are incremental improvements on this design.

  • Ah, right you are! Thanks for pointing that out :)
    – Daft
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:25
  • I find that very unconvincing. Its true that under some special circumstances, such as espionage or diplomatic protection, a small or non-obvious weapon might be an advantage. But for general issue you just want an effective weapon. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:51
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    Any clue what, exactly, "cricket" means in this context? Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:52
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    @PaulJohnson Starfleet is a diplomatic and science organization first and a military organization second. And when they go into a serious military engagement, they still have the phaser rifles.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:58
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    They go to the trouble of designing an easy to conceal weapon, then they don't even put pockets on the uniforms...
    – Paul
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 0:43

People are comfortable with things that are familiar. When designing weapons, particularly for military use, muscle memory is strong contributing factor to design. For example, pilots initially had trouble with the flight stick in the F-16 because it responded to pressure, but didn't move. Eventually, it was redesigned to give a bit of the feel that pilots expected.

Consider the Noisy Cricket Type 1 phaser...

It's a very tiny weapon, designed to be easily concealed (as your image indicates). It is cradled in the hand rather than gripped like a modern firearm. There's not a lot of surface area underneath, and the traditional trigger finger is an important part of supporting the weapon. Moving the activation button to the top makes sense. You don't want to jostle your grip (and your aim) by moving a significant supporting digit. The grip makes sense here, because they're clearly trying to make a very small weapon, and a conventional pistol grip would result in a much larger weapon.

The larger phasers have a similar grip style and a functionally identical trigger mechanism, the top-mount thumb-trigger. This keeps training for the Type 1 weapon relevant for Type 2 weapons. The skills learned for one weapon are transferable to other similar weapons.

Of course, the Type 3 Phaser is significantly different, which serves as a good reason for why phaser rifles aren't used more often. Most people aren't sufficiently trained in them to carry them when you don't really need the extra firepower.

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    Noisy Cricket :)
    – Daft
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:41

I don't think it matters too Much, it's a matter of modern aesthetics.

A trigger in a gun was mechanical, whereas in older phaser that are pistol shaped the trigger is really just a button. In modern phasers which are not pistol shaped any longer but shaped more like a TV remote a topside button makes more sense.

In either case they performed the same function.

  • This sounds like an ok out-of-universe answer. I'm wondering if there's an in-universe one.
    – Daft
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:14
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    @Daft It is an in-universe answer though. A non-mechanical device simply doesn't need a "trigger." If they had triggers, one would reasonably wonder why they don't just have buttons.
    – Misha R
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:26
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    How in the world is that distinguishable as either in or out of universe? It's a matter of basic design principles which star trek was notable in how they tried to hold as true to true mechanics and engineering as possible in the context of futuristic scifi
    – Escoce
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:26
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    @Daft I like to think that the best-constructed sci fi universes rely as little as possible on separate in-universe explanations - and, whenever possible, rely on reality.
    – Misha R
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:39
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    @MishaRosnach True. But to be honest, I was really hoping to find some odd Star Trek logic as to why one design was superior to the other.
    – Daft
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:40

I very much doubt that any real weapon designer would have come up with any of the designs above because they are going to be very difficult to aim. The 23rd century "trigger" designs lack any kind of sights, and the 24th century designs compound this fundamental flaw in the following ways:

  1. You have to put your thumb between your eye and the emitter, making it even harder to figure out what you are pointing it at.

  2. With the trigger design your thumb goes around the handgrip, providing an opposing grip to your fingers and thereby helping stabilise the weapon. Having to use your thumb to depress a button loses that stabilisation, so accurate shooting gets even harder.

  3. Everyone knows what a trigger is and how to use it. Why change such a basic bit of user interface? At some point the switch to the 24th century design would have meant that everyone in Starfleet needed to relearn how to shoot.

  4. A button on top of the device is much more prone to accidental activation than a trigger in the usual place, especially in combat. A smart grip that detects when its being held helps somewhat, but not enough to be safe.

  5. The 23rd century designs require you to hold a vertical grip in order to shoot forwards. The 24th century designs force you to bend your wrist downwards at an unnatural angle, again making the whole thing harder to aim.

In short, I don't believe there is a good in-universe answer unless you want to posit a corrupt supply chain or crazy ideologue in the Starfleet Weapons Procurement Division.

(Edit: the crazy ideologue in question believes that, since Starfleet is primarily a diplomatic and scientific service rather than a military force, the standard issue sidearm should be an overpowered toy rather than a real weapon)

  • Isn't it possible that the two raised panels forward of the green power level indicator could function as an "iron" sight?
    – Random832
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 16:57
  • @Random832 Not really. They would give very limited information about lateral aim and almost nothing about elevation. Iron sights on real guns have evolved over the centuries, and are pretty optimal designs. There is a reason that they are as far apart as possible. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 17:00
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    LOL. Whining about a lack of iron sights on a phaser? It is a weapon that can fire meter diameter blasts. It can fire in wide arc beams. You can see its path, it can sustain fire and you can sweep over your target if the aim was off. More importantly IT HAS AUTO AIM. You can often see them firing off bore to hit the target. Iron sights? That's rich.
    – Shane
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:18
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    Aiming a phaser couldn't be easier! 1) Stick out your arm in the correct general direction. 2) designated actor falls over (or steps out of frame). 3) beam (and optional disintegration effect) is drawn in during post production.
    – tjd
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 20:49
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    There are also "rifle"-style phasers that occasionally show up and are operated with both hands. These presumably have more accuracy over distances than your standard one-hand variety. Also, keep in mind that unlike a conventional firearm which just fires one bullet per trigger pull, phasers fire a continuous beam that can easily be visibly corrected. Ever play with a laser-pointer? Those are easy to aim and you can only usually see the spot where they hit. With phasers, the entire beam is visible, piece of cake. Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 21:11

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