Still Their Fault

Bernard Porter

  • The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War by C.J. Chivers
    Allen Lane, 481 pp, £25.00, November 2010, ISBN 978 0 7139 9837 5

The Kalashnikov automatic rifle is light, portable and cheap. It scarcely ever jams, even in the most extreme conditions – tropical heat, Arctic cold, bogs, deserts. It can be disassembled and reassembled ‘by Slavic schoolboys in less than 30 seconds flat’. Millions have been manufactured and distributed worldwide. The gun has become iconic, especially among anti-colonial freedom fighters and terrorists: its distinctive silhouette is even to be found on the Mozambique national flag. In 2009, a Missouri car dealer offered a free voucher worth half a Kalashnikov with every pick-up truck he sold. (The voucher was for the semi-automatic version. US gun laws may be liberal, but they do have limits.) More to the point: the Kalashnikov has probably killed more people than any other hand-held weapon in history. That makes it one of the great industrial success stories of modern times.

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