Thinking globally, acting locally

In addition to braving gun-free New York over the weekend, I took the time and spent some money doing something I consider pretty much a patriotic duty. As I see it, if local journalists are going to buy guns in order to have them destroyed, someone has to remedy this imbalance of karma, right?

So, anticipating next week's United Nations gun-grabber junket on banning small arms (discussed by the NRA-ILA here; dedicated web site here), I attended a local gun show over the weekend.

While I was there I saw many a good deal on copycat semi-automatic versions of the weapon gun-grabbers find most annoying. (Extended discussion of the lookalike Kalashnikov copycats here.) I haven't been keeping up with the times as I should; hence I was suprised to see that there are now innumerable American manufactured Kalashnikov copies.

Coincidentally, last week the Inquirer featured an article on the gun's designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov. But inexplicably, the full version of Henry Meyer's actual report, which ran in Sunday's Inquirer, never made it into the Inquirer's web site. A very odd omission, because the full version is the one that discusses next week's international gun grabbing conference, and hints that Kalashnikov is being pressured to support the U.N. plan:

"Can I be blamed that they consider it the most reliable weapon?"

The question is especially acute, as an 11-day United Nations' conference on curbing the small-arms trade is due to convene later this month in New York. Mr Kalashnikov may send the delegates a statement.

Sturdy, simple and cheap, and firing 600 bullets a minute, the world's estimated 100 million Kalashnikovs account for up to 80 per cent of all assault rifles. In Africa's civil conflicts or in violence-ridden Latin American nations, they sell for as little as £8.

The weapon's genesis dates back to 1941, when Mr Kalashnikov was in hospital with severe wounds from a German shell that hit his tank in the battle of Bryansk in western Russia. Thinking about the Soviet forces' inferiority due to their lack of an automatic weapon, he had a brainstorm one night and jotted down a rough design that he worked on for much of the next six months, assisted by Red Army colleagues.

They worked, he says, "in a burst of enthusiasm, out of a huge desire to make a contribution to victory over the fascist invaders".

Hey, they'll still work against fascist invaders. Or communist invaders. Or "insurgents" of any variety.

Missing from both Inquirer versions of the story was Kalashnikov's pride in the gun's historic role:

He is proud that US soldiers in Vietnam and Iraq have compared the Kalashnikov well with the M-16.
The fact is, the Kalashnikov is now an established American military icon, and U.S. soldiers are still using it in battle. I like toughness and durability, and these things are legendary for being indestructible. They'll fire after being dropped or even left in the mud for prolonged periods.

(They also make a distinctively loud clatter when you ratchet back the action, which is a good deterent even against the most "insane" invaders.)

I'll never forget seeing television footage taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots of a Korean shopkeeper who scared off a group of rioters intent on looting and burning simply by getting on the roof of his store and waving a Kalashnikov. Like it or not (and I can understand why perfectionists among gun lovers might not) the Kalashnikov is a recognizable icon feared by bad guys -- in Los Angeles or in any other trouble spot.

In the U.S., rap artists reference AK-47s and moviemakers arm cinema terrorists, gang members (e.g. films like Boyz N The Hood), and "bad guys" in general with AK-47s. Numerous computer and video games feature AK-47s. Toy makers and the airsoft industry make millions of replica AK-47's. Combined, these factors add much to the weapon's cultural mystique.

The sheer ubiquity of the AK-47, its iconography and the fact that it possesses easily the most distinguishable weapon outline ensures a significant and conspicuous impact on society.

What that means, of course, is that for brandishing purposes, no weapon offers better deterrence without having to be fired. An unloaded Kalashnikov is probably more intimidating than a loaded .45 calilber pistol, conventional bolt-action hunting rifle, or 12 gauge shotgun -- even though the latter are capable of doing far more damage if fired. Arguably, the Kalashnikov is the safest weapon to have in case of emergencies. (Or to have in a survival kit.)

I hope that the 86-year old Mikhail Kalashnikov hasn't been bullied into supporting United Nations gun grabbing (also known as the "Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects") because his gun -- like all guns -- is a tool which can be used for good or bad purposes.

But guns are "more likely" to kill innocent people, right?

Sorry, but I'm more likely to kill innocent people with my car than with my gun. (And I think the statistics, much as I abhor them, would bear me out.)


I have to say, it takes a lot of chutzpah for the UN to sponsor a conference with a goal of eliminating a basic human right, and one of America's most cherished freedoms. Considering the human rights track record of the UN, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.


If the black helicopter crowd was trying to communicate the idea that the UN is coming for your guns, they couldn't have done a better job of designing the poster (or the web site).

Actually, considering the corruption in organizations like the International Whaling Commission, maybe this whole "Programme of Action" is just a way to shake down major arms merchants.

In that respect, it's a pity that the elderly General Kalashnikov never received an international patent. (He'd be less likely to support the silly UN treaty if he was making a profit from sales.)

I've been wondering whether the old guy has been misinformed about the nature of what the U.N. gun grabbers propose. Elsewhere, I've read that he's a member of the NRA, and that he opposes gun control:

Meeting A Legend

The door opened and he met us on his porch. Dressed in reed-pattern camouflage pants and a light shirt, the Hero of the Soviet Union Mikhail Kalashnikov warmly welcomed us into his home.

Our hosts introduced us and we followed him inside. His summer home sits in the midst of well kept flowers, bushes and plants. The rustic cottage, constructed with pine slats, was the home of a man who loved the outdoors.

We removed our shoes and Kalashnikov invited us into his living room. We settled around him and presented gifts. Kalashnikov is a serious knife collector, so we felt presentation-grade Ka-Bars would be appropriate.

In Russian tradition, Kalashnikov reached into his pocket and removed a coin, which he gave to Mark Vorobiev. Along with the knives, we gave Kalashnikov letters from American firearms enthusiasts. As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, this enthused Kalashnikov. He exhorted us to keep the anti-gunners at bay. (Emphasis added.)

I don't know what the facts are about his recent statements (Jeff Soyer attributes them to old age) but the fact is, Mikhail Kalashnikov is a legend.

I prefer to remember legends in the positive way.

MORE: Whoops, forgot to ask a question. Why are all these recent Kalashnikov stories calling the gun the weapon of choice for "terrorists"?

Weren't they trying to ban that word?

MORE: A commenter at Samizdata also reports Kalashnikov's NRA membership.

And in 2004, Kalashnikov complained about American infringement of his design:

A Russian industry and product designer is accusing the United States of abetting intellectual-property pirates and directing knockoffs of the Kalashnikov assault rifle around the world, The New York Times reported.

“We see a great number of products which are named after Kalashnikov, my name,’’ the newspaper quoted Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the weapon’s original designer. ”They are buying Kalashnikovs from other countries,’’ he added.

The United States has reportedly been purchasing or arranging the transfer of thousands of knockoffs of Kalashnikovs, commonly referred to as AK-47’s, to outfit new military and security forces in Kabul and Baghdad.

Perhaps his statements result more from his annoyance than support for the UN plan.

AND MORE: "Mikhail Kalashnikov is a Life Member of the NRA."

So far, the only statement I can find from him in support of the treaty is this:

"It is imperative to make a decision about introducing strict sanctions on those who violate the terms of such an international agreement."
That doesn't sound like resounding support for gun control. (For all anyone knows, he might think an international agreement on gun trading will help him make a few bucks in his old age.)

MORE: Best quote from Kalashnikov:

"To make something simple is a thousand times more difficult than to make something complex."
He's right.

posted by Eric on 06.20.06 at 10:01 AM


Heck, AK47s are so ubiquitous that one even appears on the flag of Mozambique.

Captain Ned   ·  June 20, 2006 10:08 AM

I used one on a political photoshop:

Eric Scheie   ·  June 20, 2006 1:28 PM

"This is the AK-47 Assault Rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemies. It makes a very distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it."

Phelps   ·  June 20, 2006 2:11 PM

Heartbreak Ridge? I should rent that if it's out on DVD.

I'm assuming you're a fan of the AKs.

Eric Scheie   ·  June 20, 2006 4:07 PM

I'm not sure he has a legal case on IP grounds, though.

After all, the designation ("Automat Kalashnikov", model of 1947) and the design were, in the former case definitely and in the latter presumptively (as I'm not aware of any private ownership of design under the Soviet code, and especially not of designs entered into military trials and accepted!), the property of the Soviet government, not Mikhail Kalashnikov.

And many of those foreign Kalashnikovs the US is buying are... from former Soviet-bloc nations who got the machining and production "rights" (such as the USSR cared about them at all), under what must be at least the equivalent of a licence.

(The whole idea seems something of a joke, what with the completely anti-property-rights nature of the regime in question. But I suppose I can't fault Kalashnikov personally for wanting a cut now. That's the American dream, after all!)

(And a double irony is that the USSR happily ignored IP rights of Western nations at any time it suited; before WW2, they were making copies of Leica cameras (as the "FED"). Post-war they did so legitimately, as the Allied nations dissolved pre-existing German IP protections as part of the peace treaties, I'm led to believe.)

Sigivald   ·  June 20, 2006 6:23 PM

Sigivald: I've also read that the Soviet Union didn't always totally honor US military patents. Some people have even said they stole trade secrets as well.

I'm not sure about that though. I've just heard it.

Jon Thompson   ·  June 20, 2006 11:05 PM

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