I have been shooting and training with AK-47’s and their variants for over fifteen years now. I have seen the platform both grow in civilian popularity and slowly but surely nudge its way into the very tight U.S. firearms accessories market that was solely dominated by the AR-15 for two decades. In the old days (Oh no, I am starting to sound like an old fart!) I can remember there were virtually ZERO U.S. vendors of AK kit, so you either had to make your own part or if you were lucky, find a Galil part and use that.

But, as the famous line goes, “That was then and this is now..” and so much has changed as far as better quality and  assortment of AK accessories available. With the virtual explosion of AMERICAN custom shops for both the production of AK rifles and parts and accessories, the AK shooter is finally on level footing, at least parts wise, with the Golden Child of the civilian rifle shooting community, the AR-15.

But, despite being able to find a wide assortment of parts, there is still a stigma attached to the AK, and by consequence, a stigma on the people who own and shoot them. AK-47’s and their variants are still largely seen as “The Enemy’s Gun” or the guns that “Terrorists” use. This is largely due in part to the media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whenever you saw a dead terrorist, you typically saw an AK  laying beside him. This is humorous to me because, in reality, I have seen terrorists using everything from AR’s, FAL’s, CETME .308’s and even beat up bolt action Mosin Nagants! It really is silly and adolescent to associate a certain weapon with a certain group of people, but this is as much the fault of Hollywood and the movies as it is the media lib-tards and their anti-gun agenda.

Actual North Hollywood Bank Robber using AKM

Actual North Hollywood Bank Robber using Norinco Type 56 AK in shootout with Police, 1997

The AK is also primarily portrayed as the criminal’s gun by law enforcement. It is typically shown in photographs of gangland shootings and drive-bys, or even in large DEA cartel drug busts. I can recall at least half a dozen times seeing news reports that showed hundreds of bricks of cocaine stacked up 4 feet high and then several AK rifles leaned up against it as if that was the only weapon found during the bust. The actual reality though, and as was seen in the “Fast and Furious” ATF/DEA debacle, is that there are many other types of weapons (most of which were put into circulation by the ATF themselves) that are used by criminal cartels, such as the much-loved and adored AR-15 and Glock pistol, both of which are the standard long arm and sidearm for a large percentage of law enforcement agencies across the nation.

One of the main factors that drives this stigma in my opinion has to do with the perception that the AK series of rifles are “Cheap” and/or are “Foreign made crap” when compared to the AR series of rifles, which is seen as “America’s Gun”and the “Gun our Troops use.” These types of comparisons are asinine in my opinion, because although the AK was designed in a foreign country, a large percentage of AK’s in circulation were built right here in the U.S.!  It is also humorous to think that although the AK is mostly made out of sheet metal, the AR is in large part, made out of plastic. So the argument over which is “cheaper” can and is, hotly debated in online forums. Just like other pointless arguments such as “9mm vs. .45”, “AK vs. AR” has been going on for a LONG time now and is not likely going to lose steam anytime soon. And even if it did, I am sure the “gun forum commandos” out there would find some other pointless topic to flame about. God forbid these people get out and actually TRAIN rather than sit in front of a computer and play Mr. Know it all, right? Would the world stop spinning?

To qualify my point, In a recent article in on RecoilWeb.Com talking about the differences in the US Palm 30 AK Magazine and the Magpul MOE PMAG, the author, Jerod Johnson was quoted  as saying this:

Val Kilmer in the movie “Heat” from 1995 which influenced the North Hollywood Bank Robbery, using an Colt 733 in shootout with Police

“The PMAG has a much lower retail price at $14.95 which is appealing to the cost-effective shooter that exists traditionally in the AK-47 crowd.”

So, according to Mr. Johnson, people who shoot AK’s and their variants are all “budget shoppers” and by definition, cheap. This by implication, states that we (AK Shooters) are basically the “poor kids” of the gun community; choosing to shoot “poorly made” weapons because we can’t afford anything better? I don’t know about you, but I find that assumption insulting and just wrong on so many levels.

But, before we get too upset, let’s look at the history behind the “WHY” of these false assumptions.

What is lacking in most people’s opinions of the AK series of rifles is the understanding of the Three “Types” of AK Rifle Builds that exist in America today, and how vastly different in quality all of them can be.

Here is a cursory overview of the three types:

1. CAI “Kit” Guns

The worst of the three and not surprisingly, the type of rifle that the average person typically bases their opinion of the AK on.

Most of  these rifles are built “piece meal” (also known as “Frankenstein Built”) by Century Arms International and according to a friend of mine, are built by DRUNK monkeys in a basement somewhere in New Jersey. The cost of these weapons vary, buy typically run around $600. The basic build can go like this: CAI takes an American made receiver and then uses some imported parts to build a 922r compliant weapon. The glitch in kit guns is not so much the quality of the parts, since most of the receivers are American made (Like NoDak Spud, Global Trades, etc.) The bigger issue has more to do with HOW the guns are built, which is typically in an assembly line fashion with little or no attention to detail nor QUALITY CONTROL.  I came to the conclusion a while back that it is basically a roll of the dice when you buy a CAI gun ONLINE simply because you cannot INSPECT the gun before you buy it. The best example of this is the now infamous Romanian WASR. Peruse the archives of any of the AK Forums and you will see time and time again things such as: warped barrels, wrong caliber barrels (mostly in the 5.45 AK-74’s) improperly headspaced barrels,  canted front sight post, ragged cut rails in the receiver, trigger hammers installed backwards, etc. and you get the picture fast! But to be fair, Century Arms has come a long way in the last seven to eight years with their customer service and customer relations and are more willing to fix a problem now than just ignore it as they did a while back during the “WASR Years.”

There are a few exceptions to the CIA Kit Gun rule however, the most notable ones being the Yugo M92 AK Pistol and the Yugo M70AB2 Underfolder series of rifles. Most everybody who owns one of these weapons (including Travis Haley and this author) will tell you, for the most part, they are exceptionally well built AK’s. The reason for this is simple: the majority of the gun is built at the Zastava Plant in Serbia and then imported and made 922r compliant by CAI; no drunk monkeys with wrenches ever touch these guns. For this very reason I am fan of all things Yugoslavian, including their Mausers, SKS’s and Tokarevs!

Arsenal SLR-107-CR

2. Arsenal AK’s

By far the best build and brand of AK you can buy without buying a custom gun. The folks at Arsenal represent everything Modern and Forward Thinking about the AK Platform without changing the heart of the system. The quality of parts you get is awesome and the quality control of the build is even better. These guns start out around a Grand ($1,000) and are worth every penny IMO. Funny thing, with AR Prices being at a seven year low, you can actually buy an AR cheaper now than an Arsenal AK; so does that reverse the “cost” stigma now? Are AR shooters now the “poor kids” on the block? LOL..see how ridiculous all this crap is?

3. Custom Built AK

Take your pick, either from certified master builders like Jim Fuller at Rifle Dynamics or Mark Krebs at Krebs Custom. There are also smaller shops like CNC Warrior and Snake Hound Machine. All these guys can build you the absolute best AK money can buy, just be ready to shell it out and in the end you will have a weapon that can be passed down for generations.

So in closing guys, let’s BREAK this AK Stigma thing and stop wasting valuable training time! When we start getting side tracked by useless banter like this, we need to be reminded that our emphasis should always focus on TRAINING. By Focusing more on the Software (mindset) than the Hardware (Tools) we will ensure our training is realistic and efficient and avoids any “Fantasy Gunfight” scenarios that can get us killed. After all, a criminal who intends to break into your house, rape your wife and murder you while you sleep could care less if you have an AK or an AR or how much you paid for either of them or what modifications you did to them to make them better.

The bottom line question is this:  HAVE you trained and ARE you training to the best of your ability with the weapon you do have to stop the BAD GUY cold if and when that day ever comes?

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!

The above article was originally posted at The Tactical Hermit and has been reprinted with permission. The article was edited for clarity. Cover image by brian.ch at Flickr.

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