The Kalashnikov and I

The Gun That Changed the World

Thursday, January 17, 2013
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NOT FOR SALE: There are an estimated 100 million AK-47 Kalashnikov-style assault rifles in the world, but I couldn’t find one to buy in Santa Barbara this week.

California has strict controls on these semi-automatics, weapons of choice for revolutionaries, Mexican drug cartels, hunters, Third World armies, thugs, terrorists, and just plain folks who want to go target shooting. Or, of course, for “protection.”

Not that I had any intention of buying one. But when you have a weapon that’s obsessed the American gun-buying world, I’m interested. An estimated 155 million people own guns in the U.S.A.(population approximately 312 million).

Barney Brantingham

Mikhail Kalashnikov, who invented the AK-47 back during World War II, now 93, says he’s sad, given the butchery that’s issued from the muzzle. He says he never made a dime from the invention. At the same time, he was quoted as saying, “If someone asks me how I can sleep at night knowing that my arms have killed millions of people, I respond that I have no trouble sleeping; my conscience is clean. I constructed arms to defend my country.

“I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawn mower.” Still, the AK-47 is known as “the gun that changed the world,” and that’s the title of his book.

The original AK-47, first adopted by the Soviet army in 1947 after Kalashnikov spent years working on it, has gone through all kinds of redesign around the world and is made in countless countries, legally and illegally. It’s simple to build and operate, and it’s cheap. According to reports, it sold for 15 cows in Kenya in 1986, the price dropping to four cows in 2005.

Estonia bans carrying a knockoff AK-47 while drunk, which led to a Russian’s crack that if that were the law in his country, no one would be hunting.

Kalashnikov’s family was deported to Siberia in one of Stalin’s agricultural collectivization manias, which led to the deaths of 14.5 million people. The young man, one of 19 children, was conscripted into the Red Army in 1938, and while recovering from wounds after the Germans invaded, he decided to improve on small-arms weapons.

My late friend Bob kept an AK-47 type along with an arsenal of other weapons in his San Roque apartment. “He was very proud of it,” a friend told me. As far as I could tell, Bob’s entire political philosophy focused on keeping guns legal, all guns. Bob, who died a few years ago, was solidly Republican, nonviolent, and liked to go up in the hills and shoot at bottles or whatever. But if his rifle were made illegal and someone came to confiscate it (every gun owner’s paranoid fear), “He’d have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers,” as the saying goes. Where that rifle is now I have no idea — maybe down the block.

The Nicolas Cage film Lord of War has some interesting dialog: “Of all the weapons in the vast Soviet arsenal, nothing was more profitable than [the AK-47 and its spin-offs]. It’s the world’s most popular assault rifle. A weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple amalgamation of forged steel and plywood. It doesn’t break, jam, or overheat. It’ll shoot when it’s covered with mud or filled with sand. It’s so easy, even a child can use it, and they do.

“The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has been the Russians’ greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure, no one was lining up to buy their cars.”

Sue and I have not had good experiences with guns. A pistol was shoved in her face by robbers when she was working at a State Street jewelry store many years ago. My introduction to the wonderful world of guns came when Uncle Sam invited me into his army and shoved an M1 in my hands. One fun night, the sergeant invited us to crawl through a field under strands of barbed wire while someone fired a machine gun over our heads. I hoped they weren’t firing real bullets.

It would have been fine with me if they’d just warned us to keep our heads down whenever someone was shooting at us and let us stay in our bunks. I gave my M1 back after two years and haven’t picked a gun up since, not even an AK-47.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Am certainly glad that one cannot purchase an AK-47 in Santa Barbara, but I'm not getting the point of this column.

Re "suicidal novelists" from Russia, can you name one?

I'm sure a Google search will find someone, but what an odd remark.

zappa (anonymous profile)
January 17, 2013 at 9:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

An AK-47 is a fully automatic weapon, capable of continuous rapid fire when the trigger is pulled. They are only legal in the US under extremely tight federal licensing - illegal for all practical purposes. The weapons currently and incorrectly being called "assault weapons" in the media are semi-automatic weapons which fire one round per trigger pull. BIG difference.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 8:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The AK-47 is a knockoff of the German Sturmgewehr 44 that Russia captured at the end of WWII. The AK47 is "select-fire " or "fully automatic" meaning by pulling the trigger and holding it the gun will continue to fire until the magazine is empty, such weapons have been regulated since 1934 in the USA and NOT LEGAL in California except under very strict control, hollywerid movies come to mind or your local Police Department.

"California has strict controls on these semi-automatics, weapons of choice for revolutionaries, Mexican drug cartels, hunters, Third World armies, thugs, terrorists, and just plain folks who want to go target shooting. Or, of course, for “protection.”

Do you homework and don't claim what you do not know, big difference between "Select-fire, fully automatic" and "Semi-automatic"

What ever happened to good journalism and fact checking.

Fully Automatic weapons are the weapon of choice for Revolutionaries, Mexican drug cartels, Third World armies, and Terrorists, that includes the weapons that the US Government exports.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 12:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Doesn't the Kalashnikov also fire "magic" bullets?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 1:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks, howgreen. The level of ignorance in the national gun control debate is shocking.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 5:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Lets look at the Current Law. An AK47 is Illegal in California, an AK47 style rifle that is "Semi-Automatic" is not if it meets certain requirements.

The difference between the two guns is one has an EXTRA set of holes drilled across the receiver from side to side and additional "Select-Fire Parts"

1. It is a Federal Felony to have a rifle with the additional holes drilled in the receiver without a Federal Tax Stamp, it is called "Constructive Possession"

2. It is a Federal Felony to possess the "Select-Fire" parts, regardless if you even own a firearm. The PARTS are "Constructive Possession", without a Federal Tax Stamp.

3. In California 99.99% of the population cannot get a Federal Tax Stamp.

Four or Five years ago an early morning raid was made in Santa Barbara, at 5 locations, which included the PD,SO, ATF, DEA, etc. The news stated they the organized criminals were selling drugs and making automatic weapons. The arrested were hauled away to the Federal Court House in Los Angeles.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 7:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A six shooter is capable of killing six people. These guns have always been available. If someone kills six people at a time it would make national news. Why weren't such stories common when I was growing up?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 8:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

: : "Myth 3: Incidents of mass murder are increasing...

When a mass murder occurs, it receives instant and pervasive news coverage. Unfortunately, we are prone to overestimate the frequency of an event by its prominence in our minds, and mass murder is no exception. This is a very rare phenomenon and is neither increasing nor decreasing in the US. Since 1976 there have been about 20 mass murders a year. 2003 was the most violent year for mass murder, with 30 incidents and 135 victims. Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Edmund Oklahoma, and San Ysidro still resonate in the public consciousness, however, reminding us that these events do happen. A positive counterpoint is that rates of all violent crime have significantly decreased over this same time period, from 48 victims per 1000 persons in 1976 to 15 victims in 2010. The most lethal school mass murder in US history was in Bath, Michigan, in 1927, a bombing that resulted in 45 deaths, mostly children in the second to sixth grades."

- From the book "The seven myths of mass murder"

- Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008
[multiple victims charts and commentary begin on page 24]

- - -
"Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century."


"Without minimizing the pain and suffering of the hundreds...who have been victimized in senseless attacks, the facts say clearly that [there] has been no increase in mass killings," [criminalogist James Allen] Fox wrote. When clusters of incidents occur close together, he added, that likely reflects a mixture of copycatting and coincidence.

- - -

Here is a timeline of 62 mass murders [incidents] in the United States between 1982 and 2012.

binky (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 10:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Giving a cursory glance at the participants in this thread I think it's safe to say that we all agree that one time is too many. Now let's take a moment and think of someone you know that should never be given a weapon (they're THAT nuts.) Let's start there. What do you think is a fair and reasonable system to filter out people who you as a gun advocate or critic personally from experience know should not be given a weapon.
Looking over Obama's plan it doesn't seem at all Draconian, seems pretty common sense. And we already have an assault weapons ban in California. I think the Patriot Act is far worse.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 18, 2013 at 11:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)


The Obama EO's (executive orders), I have no problem with them. California already has them in place. I agree with the HIPPA issues addressed in the EO's. HIPPA has a lot of blame for not reporting.

Here is a rational discussion that took place in San Francisco this week, podcast, pay attention to what the mental health Police Officer has to say about 5150's. I think the Skinner Bill is not sound, she keeps calling cartridges (bullets) ready does not understand the problem or what she is talking about. Also note AG Kamala Harris is seizing firearms from people that become "prohibited" after the fact, this is good.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
January 19, 2013 at 9:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Just do everything we can to keep criminals from obtaining and using guns of ANY kind.

Don't concern yourself with the types and amounts of guns possessed by law-abiding, sane, citizens.

That includes calling my guns an "arsenal," just to be inflammatory. Also don't demand I tell you why I "need" this or that type of gun. You'll just mock the answer because you don't own a gun, or want to.

JAnderton (anonymous profile)
January 23, 2013 at 6:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Instead of calling this article "The Kalashnikov and I", Barney should have called it..."The Kalashnikov and I are both tools."

vonG (anonymous profile)
February 1, 2013 at 11:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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