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In Revolution, episode 4, one of the militia guys says that they can't make bullets anymore. As far as I know, bullets were made before electricity. All that's needed is gunpowder, which the Chinese made a few thousands of years ago, and lead. I know that mass producing them would be difficult without electricity, but other than that, what would prevent anyone from making new bullets? Was there any further explanation given that I just didn't see?

  • Wow. Saw this question moments after watching that very scene. Spooky. – luser droog Sep 21 '13 at 5:02
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    Bullets don't normally contain gunpowder. The bullet is the projectile part of the cartridge. Also, using black powder rounds in modern handguns is somewhat impractical outside of hobby shooting purposes since it leaves a lot of residue and causes excessive fouling that modern firearms aren't designed to handle. But I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't be able to produce modern cartridges with smokeless propellant without electricity. – Lèse majesté Sep 21 '13 at 22:08
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The problem is that the specific bullets used in modern firearms do require electricity - not to mention certain alloys and chemical compounds which themselves require electricity - to create. So while bullets could doubtlessly be created without need for electricity, the modern bullets used in the modern weaponry that survived the collapse of civilisation shown in that awful television show would no longer be capable of production.

Theoretically, if you found all the correct materials already stockpiled you could fit them together to create bullets mechanically, but you could no longer produce all the components from scratch.

To be fair, that comment was likely just an example of the extremely shoddy writing on that show, rather than a legitimate observation.

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    Most guns don't require bullets of a particular alloy. They just need to be the right caliber and cartridge shape. As long as they have the ability to make brass or steel, the rest of the process just requires simple machining. Likewise, modern smokeless powders have been mass produced since the late 19th century. Lack of a functioning economy might make it more difficult to produce ammunition, but not impossible. – Lèse majesté Sep 21 '13 at 22:00
  • I don't believe you could make bullets for a modern gun without a lathe, and while technically hand-lathes or steam-lathes once existed, there aren't any around. So to make bullets you would need to create a new set of machinery, and then spend a long time fashining each individual bullet - not theoretically impossible, but practically impossible. – DJClayworth Sep 22 '13 at 1:17
  • @DJCalyworth: Why would you need a new set of machinery? Just take the existing manufacturing equipment and replace the electric motors with a water/wind/steam-powered belt drive. People have been doing this in developing nations for decades. It might take a few months of work, but it's hardly impossible. If the industrial revolution engineers and inventors had this attitude, we'd all still be sewing our own clothing and riding around in horse-drawn buggies. – Lèse majesté Sep 22 '13 at 2:38
  • Agree with Aesin :-) However, the issue is not simply creating bullets, but creating them at the same time as trying to do all the other competing items e.g. find/grow/make/store food, clean water, medicine, etc. Think alone of how many pregnant women died in childbirth due to lack of appropriate medical care. Trying to build a manufacturing base to build weapons competes with using those resources to do other things. But, reality is, in such a world, while might does still not make right, being right without the might to back it up is very naïve and probably a death sentence. – beichst Sep 22 '13 at 18:47
  • @beichst: Sure, you have to prioritize, but preserving industrial technology would be a pretty high priority (after adapting agricultural methods to an electricity-free world). Things like infant mortality, life expectancy, and technological advancement all ultimately depend on societal efficiency. Agriculture and mechanization give us the spare time/resources to go beyond our immediate needs of survival. It gives us abundant clean water, time/resources for hygiene and preventative care, and the leisure time for education and invention. – Lèse majesté Sep 22 '13 at 21:30
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There's no official reason given but I think it's due to the fact that the machinery used to make some specific bullets doesn't work. In theory, bullets could've been made post-blackout but they wouldn't have been as accurate.

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its possible the comment was hyperbole and referencing the inability to mass produce them

or it was critical research failure

but lets be honest theres so much wrong with that show its not even funny

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    Hahaha good point. – Heseinberg Sep 21 '13 at 3:03
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You could produce bullets the old fashion way but logic would dictate that they wouldn't be compatible with modern weapons (which are designed assuming a certain industrial base for both the arms and ammunition) so your archaic bullets would also require the production of archaic guns.

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    all you'd need to produce bullets that fit the gun is a mold to cast them in, and that can be produced easily enough with hand tools. The biggest problem would be the smokeless powder and blasting caps, which most people wouldn't know how to make even though it's quite possible. – jwenting Sep 22 '13 at 7:25

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