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Towards the end in Aliens (1986), Bishop volunteers to crawl down a narrow access tunnel to reach the uplink tower.

In the scene, they cut a hole in the access tunnel and when Bishop hops into the tunnel, Vasquez offers him a pistol. Bishop then gives the pistol back to Ripley and continues unarmed - why did he do this?

He was about to take a dangerous trip outside the base to the uplink tower. In his own words he said he is "not stupid".

Given the possibility for aliens to be out there, why did he refuse the pistol?

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    Interestingly, the pistol was in a bag in the scripted version; "_ INT. MED LAB 130. One of the acid holes from the colonists' siege has yielded access to subfloor conduits. Bishop lying in the opening, reaches up to graph the portable terminal as Ripley hands it down to him. He pushes it into the constricted shaft ahead of him. She then hands him a small satchel containing tools and assorted patch cables, a service pistol and a small cutting torch. – Valorum Oct 5 '18 at 11:39
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Bishop is a 'gentle soul'.

We learn from Burke and Bishop that modern androids (sorry, "artificial people") don't have combat training. He's literally incapable of harming humans and this presumably extends to other life-forms.

BISHOP: Well, that explains it. The A/2's were always a bit twitchy. That could never happen now with out behavioral inhibitors. Impossible for me to harm or, by omission of action, allow to be harmed a human being.

The gun is dead-weight.

In the script and novelisation (based on the script), Bishop is concerned about being slowed down by his equipment. Having to use a free hand to tote around a gun is something he'd want to avoid.

Ripley passed him a small satchel. It contained tools, patch cables and replacement circuit boards, energy bypasses, a service pistol, and a small cutting torch, together with fuel for same. More weight and bulk, but it couldn’t be helped. Better to take a little more time reaching the uplink tower than to arrive short of some necessary item.

Frankly I always viewed his glance and smile at Ripley as basically an "are you kidding me?" look. He's going up against adult xenomorphs. Even if he was capable, shooting one with a pistol is just gonna piss it off.


He can't take the gun

Moving down the canon scale, we're advised in the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual factbook that not only is it illegal for Bishop-model androids to use weapons but that they're essentially incapable of violent behaviour, serving only in non-combatant roles within the military.

Presumably he would be compelled by his programming to give up a weapon if offered one (assuming his program compels him to follow the law) and wouldn't be able to use it competently even if he chose to violate his programming and pick up a gun

5.1 SYNTHETIC HUMANS (ANDROIDS)
In recent years increasing numbers of synthetic humans have been deployed with Colonial Marine line units. Though the Geneva Convention prohibits the equipping of androids with weapons or uninhibited combat abilities, the Colonial Marine Corps regards them as an invaluable resource, supporting front line units as multi-role team-members and mobile databases. Marine androids are always employed in a non-combatant role, usually as drivers, pilots, medics and scientific advisers to combat units at platoon level and above. Though they are artificial intelligences in the broad sense, legally androids are classified as Corps property and can be ordered to perform hazardous tasks in place of humans? however, their utility and not-inconsiderable unit cost is a disincentive to any Marine field commander who wishes to treat a synthetic as expendable.

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    @vikingsteve - At point-blank range. And even then the acid spatter basically killed her – Valorum Oct 5 '18 at 13:15
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    The included quote doesn't indicate he was concerned about weight. It in fact shows the opposite: He'd prefer to carry the extra weight than be missing a tool he needed. The script also makes no mention of that concern, him happily taking the equipment and pushing it along ahead of him. – IronSean Oct 5 '18 at 13:56
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    @Valorum IIRC, Vasquez wasn't killed by refractory acid splatter: she removed her affected BDU in time. Drake, however, was killed by acid splatter. Vasquez later died in tunnel with Gorman by grenade. – bishop Oct 5 '18 at 14:39
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    @Valorum We just don't know. Vasquez continued fighting, so - IMO - the wounds weren't mortal. With Dietrich captured and evac looking unlikely, Vasquez might have eventually succumb to secondary infection, which may have cemented her resolve in the tunnel. – bishop Oct 5 '18 at 15:01
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    "Frankly I always viewed his glance and smile at Ripley as basically an "are you kidding me?" look. He's going up against adult xenomorphs. Even if he was capable, shooting one with a pistol is just gonna piss it off." Whatever was or wasn't in the script or the novel, that's what Lance Henriksen communicated to me with that look: "what use is this thing?" – Dan C Oct 5 '18 at 21:05
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First, a pistol wasn't going to do him any good if the xenomorphs attacked. By that point in the movie, it was already known that there were many of the creatures around.

Second, he had reason to believe they wouldn't attack him without provocation, since he wasn't human. He was neither edible nor a suitable host for a facehugger. Carrying a weapon might well be seen (by the xenomorphs) as provocation, where an unarmed synthetic was unlikely to attract their aggression.

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    Other possibilities: it was a tight tunnel and he might be afraid of the gun catching on something, he was not programmed to be effective as a warrior, the aliens were concentrating on the humans so while what he was doing was dangerous he was actually heading out from the fray where they would need every gun and every bullet. – Broklynite Oct 5 '18 at 11:50
  • All potentially valid points -- especially the last, though if it reached the point of needing every gun and every round, they were already hosed. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 5 '18 at 12:02
  • That would involve a lot of speculation on his part as to the xenomorphs' thinking and ability to distinguish between humans and synthetics. – Acccumulation Oct 5 '18 at 15:47
  • @Acccumulation it doesn't require thinking, just having good enough senses and instincts. – JAB Oct 5 '18 at 17:37
  • "...where an unarmed synthetic was unlikely to attract their aggression." Rather than risking human lives, perhaps the Marines should have used Bishop as a probe of sorts to explore the base. Or use remote controlled drones? (The same logic applies to exploring the source of the distress signal in the first film, although a mining crew probably wouldn't have access to drones, would they?) Of course, the film wouldn't have been as exciting. Plus I suppose drones weren't in widespread use in 1986 and hence didn't enter into the writer's imagination. :-) – RobertF Oct 5 '18 at 19:22
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“That could never happen now with our behavioral inhibitors. It is impossible for me to harm, or, by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being.”

Taking the gun would potentially harm human beings by omission of action - i.e. taking the gun.

A hint is that when he climbs into the tunnel, he says "watch your fingers" as the air duct is welded shut. At that point, the value of human being's fingers is more valuable than Bishops own safety.

As previous posts mention, it's also a dead weight, and he talks about the time necessary to get to the terminal, prep the ship and remote pilot it down. Again, it harms humans by omission of action - i.e. taking too long to get there.

  • I couldn’t remember if he said human being in that quote or if he said living creature which is why I didn’t mention it but good call! – Broklynite Oct 5 '18 at 15:37
  • At this point in the film there are a lot more guns than there are people to use them – Valorum Oct 5 '18 at 15:51
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    Taking the gun is an act of commission, not omission. I don't think that quote adds anything. As his actions were directed towards helping humans, not maximizing his chances of success would be harming humans by omission. So even without that programming, any analysis of his actions should focus on why not taking the pistol would benefit him. – Acccumulation Oct 5 '18 at 15:52
  • @Acccumulation Whether taking the gun is omission or commission can be argued either way. Sure, Bishop being offered a gun and taking it would be commission. But, as the novel quote and script link in Valorum's answer make clear, Bishop is given a bag containing a bunch of things, including a gun. One could argue that taking the gun then is an act of omission: failure to remove the gun from the bag and hand it back. – David Richerby Oct 7 '18 at 20:30
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A hand gun against a single Alien is useless. More so if there are several of them.

Vasquez was trying to provide comfort to Bishop at a time when a human would experience fear. Bishop isn't stupid and knew that the gun was just a token gesture. You can tell that he understood it was useless by the facial expression he makes when he looks at the gun. So he gives it to Ripley.

He explains the nature of himself several times in the film. Explaining his motivations, his fear and his programming. He has always shared what he was thinking. Including his thoughts that the aliens were "fascinating".

So why at a critical moment in the film where his programming conflicted with his desire for self preservation does he say nothing?

Because there was no conflict and he knew the gun was useless.

Vasquez could have given him a wooden stick and his reaction would be the same.

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