Gun salesmen and gun distributors call the AK/47 an "ugly" firearm. Some gun dealers say it looks frightening.
But it's selling like hot cakes.One reason, dealers claim, is publicity surrounding an incident Jan. 17 in which a young man in Stockton, Calif., carrying two pistols and an AK/47 rifle, killed five children and wounded 32 others on a school playground.
The shootings caused worldwide media attention, including many calls for tighter gun controls and waiting periods before guns can be purchased. Nevertheless, in the past two weeks, gun stores around the country have reportedly been deluged with orders for the AK/47.
Several local dealers say they are completely sold out, and when they've inquired about the availability of the rifles, they have been told by wholesalers that it may be weeks or months before orders can be filled.
The gun has various names - the AK/47, the AKM/47S, the AKS or simply the AK. It comes in semiautomatic configuration, brand new in a large cardboard box, complete with three 30-round magazines or clips, a rifle sling and a cleaning kit for $350 or less.
The gun is a semiautomatic variation of a fully automatic rifle developed in 1947 by a Russian named M. T. Kalashnikov. Semi-automatic means you have to pull the trigger every time you want to fire one shot.
According to gun dealers, it is being manufactured in several countries around the world, including China, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Finland and Hungary.
Importers have been bringing the gun into the United States for the past two or three years, and recently boat loads of Chinese-made AKM/47S rifles and other AK/47 lookalikes have been arriving in the United States, manufactured by at least two plants in China, Norinco and Poly Technologies.
A salesman at a Salt Lake gun store, which had only one AK/47 left Friday, said a California distributor of AK/47s told him he is out of the guns and has ordered another 3,500. But, the distributor said, he expects to sell all 3,500 the day they arrive.
Gun experts call the AK/47 one of the world's most successful small arms designs, a gun that works in even the worst kinds of military conditions, including being subjected to dirt, mud and sand.
That is another reason it is selling well. It is also fairly inexpensive, compared to the Colt AR15, which sells for about $750 and is the semi-automatic civilian model of the U.S. military's M16 fully automatic rifle.
Several Salt Lake, Ogden, Logan and Provo gun dealers were called and asked if they sell AK/47s, and most said they did. Dealers say people are buying the guns to hunt deer and jack rabbits, for casual target shooting and just for fun.
Some dealers said they sell all kinds of semiautomatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and semiautomatic pistols - many made in America, many made overseas and many World War II surplus semiautomatic guns that have been allowed to come into the United States under a recent softening of import restrictions on guns.
They pointed out that American sporting arms manufacturers have been making and selling semiautomatic guns of all kinds for more than half a century.
Several dealers said they are concerned about the growing small arms manufacturing capability of China, and they said they are afraid it is similar to the way post-World War II Germany and Japan have built cars, "hurting the American car industry," as one gun salesman put it.> He said he is afraid American gun companies will suffer from the influx of foreign-made guns, especially those made in China.
The AK/47 was made to fire the 7.62 X 39 mm cartridge, which has a 123-grain bullet. This gives the round ballistics similar to the old American standby, the .30-30.> Gun experts say the cartridge is not nearly as accurate at 200 or 300 yards as the U.S. military's 5.56 mm cartridge, but just as deadly at close range. The 5.56 round has traditionally used a 55-grain bullet, but some heavier bullets have been used successfully, few heavier though than 70 grains.
Another reason for the gun's phenomenal sale, dealers say, is Americans' fascination with guns, especially lookalike military guns and war surplus guns such as the M1 rifle and M1 carbine GIs used in World War II.> Those guns have always sold well, dealers say, and they are cheaper now since many lend-lease M1s sent to Europe and other areas during World War II are now able to be imported back into this country.> Another wrinkle in the gun game is chambering guns that look like the AK/47 and the Colt AR15 for .22 long rifle-caliber ammunition - still in the semiautomatic mode, however. Owning a fully automatic firearm is against the law unless the owner has been cleared for its ownership by the U.S. government and has paid a special $200 fee.
How easy is it to make a semiautomatic rifle such as the AK/47 fully automatic? Gun dealers and gunsmiths say it is not terribly difficult to get a semiautomatic rifle to fire full-auto.
But, they caution, it is easy to destroy the gun's trigger mechanism so it won't fire at all or, if it will, a tinkered-with semiautomatic firearm will probably turn into a runaway shooter that cannot be controlled and will not stop shooting until it runs out of ammunition.
Salt Lake Police Sgt. Dennis Tueller, a firearms instructor in the department's training division and a long-time East Patrol street cop, said he has seen only a few semiautomatic firearms made into fully automatic guns in the past decade or more.
"The last one I saw was an AR15 that had been made to fire full auto, but that was a long time ago. I don't think we have that problem - full auto weapons - in Salt Lake."