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20 Facts About Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK-47

From combat zones to inner city ganglands, the AK-47 has had a pervasive effect.

December 24, 2013

Due to its ease of use, the AK-47 — whose inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died this week, at age 94 — is the weapon of choice for many soldiers, freedom fighters and hired guns alike. As its presence permeates the global consciousness, and as conflicts around the world proliferate, we examine the story behind this gun.

What does AK-47 stand for?

The AK stands for “automatic Kalashnikov” — after the inventor. Forty-seven is a reference to the year that it was invented.

How many AK-47s are there in the world?

There are somewhere between 75 and 100 million AK-47s worldwide — or one for every 60 people on earth.

Just how much damage does the weapon cause?

Each year, some 250,000 people die from wounds inflicted by an AK-47.

And how much does one cost?

In some parts of the world, an AK-47 can be purchased for as little as $10. In most places, one can be bought for $100 – $300, depending upon the level of hostilities in the area. Generally, the more conflict, the higher the price.

Can one be purchased that cheaply in the United States?

As of 2007, a Romanian-made AK-47 could be purchased in the United States for $350, while other models can cost $1,395 — similar to the price of a high-end laptop computer. However, only semi-automatic models can be purchased legally in the United States.

Where are they made?

While more than 20 countries currently produce the AK-47, China is the world’s largest producer of them. Russia no longer makes the weapon — but has large stockpiles.

Are all AK-47s the same?

There are dozens of different versions and names of the AK-47, but they all have the same basic design with the signature banana-shaped magazine.

Are other countries trying to cash in on producing the weapon?

In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received the country’s first shipment of 100,000 AK-47s. In 2012, Chavez announced the start of production at the first first AK-47 factory in the Western Hemisphere in his country.

How did the AK-47 make its way to some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones?

Covert actions by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency funneled millions of AK-47s, as well as shoulder-held missiles, to Afghanistan in the 1970s in order to fight Soviet invaders.

What conflict brought the AK-47 to the attention of the West?

The AK-47 was first seen by Westerners in 1956, when Soviet troops used them to suppress the revolution in Hungary — resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Has it been used in civilian-initiated mass shootings?

The gun is not limited to armies and militant groups. On December 5, 2007, a 19-year-old wielding an AK-47 opened fire in an Omaha, Nebraska shopping mall in the United States, killing eight people and wounding three more — before turning the gun on himself.

(Associated Press)

Who are some famous past AK-47 users?

Stock video footage of Osama bin Laden often showed him firing an AK-47 and Saddam Hussein was captured with two beside him.

What is one example of the gun’s influence on African politics?

On Christmas Eve 1989, Charles Taylor invaded the Liberian capital of Monrovia with 100 irregular soldiers armed primarily with AK-47s. He successfully orchestrated a coup and held the country for six years — by arming adults and children with AK-47 rifles.

Is it the weapon of choice for any state armies?

About 50 standing armies use the AK-47 — including those of China, Egypt, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Is it preferred by soldiers in the field?

Some U.S. soldiers have expressed a preference for the AK-47 — especially in Iraq or Afghanistan, where dust and sand tend to jam their official-issue M-16s, but do not affect the AK.

Is the U.S. government buying any?

The new Iraqi army established after 2007 was at first armed with AK-47s — which the United States had to purchase from Jordan. However, the U.S. government later began issuing M-16s because many of the AK-47s were ending up in the hands of insurgent groups.

Where else do the AK-47s in Iraq come from?

In 2004 and 2005, more than 350,000 AK-47 rifles and similar weapons were taken out of Bosnia and Serbia to be used in Iraq by private contractors working for the Pentagon — with the approval of NATO and European security forces in Bosnia.

(Amnesty International)

Are all of those guns accounted for?

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the 2004-2005 period of the war, the Pentagon lost track of about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 80,000 pistols given to Iraqi security forces.

(U.S. Government Accountability Office)

Did the inventor ever cash in on his creation?

Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov only earned Soviet wages for creating the AK-47 — but he hoped to cash in on globally recognized brands of Kalashnikov vodka — for which he licensed his name to two vodka makers. In the last years of his life, Kalashnikov made most of his money doing celebrity appearances at arms shows.

And finally, how prevalent is the AK-47 as a symbol in contemporary politics?

The Russian AK-47 rifle is part of the flags of both Mozambique, a country in southern Africa, and Hezbollah — the Shia Muslim political party and paramilitary group in Lebanon.

(Financial Times)

Unless noted otherwise, the facts presented in this feature are from Larry Kahaner’s “AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War” (Wiley & Sons, 2007).


AK-47: The AK stands for “automatic Kalashnikov” after the inventor. 47 is the year it was invented.

For every 60 people on Earth today, there is one AK-47.

Each year, some 250,000 people die from wounds inflicted by an AK-47.

In some places, an AK-47 can be purchased for as little as $10. In most places, one can be bought for under $300.

More than 20 countries currently produce the AK-47. China is the world’s largest producer of them.

About 50 standing armies use the AK-47, including China, Egypt, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria & Iran.

From 2004-2005, the Pentagon lost track of about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles in Iraq.

Mikhail Kalashnikov never made money off the sales of his most ubiquitous invention.