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Equipment, currently consisting only of weapons, are items that can be bought, stolen, or produced by your own colonists. Trade ships and trade caravans usually have many weapons to sell, but at a high cost. Killing pirates can give you many weapons, but they are more likely to be of poor quality.
Equipment can be assigned to a colonist by clicking with the right mouse button on the item while a colonist is selected. An equipped item can be dropped by using the right mouse button again on the colonist carrying it and selecting "Drop (item name, e.g. Charge rifle)". Equipment can also be dropped by clicking the arrow on the colonist's Gear tab.