Five Facts – The Most Widely Used Gun in the World – The AK-47

AK-47 with stamp-steel magazines. <a href=Photo Credit." title="AK-47 with stamp-steel magazines. Photo Credit." width="800" height="419" />
AK-47 with stamp-steel magazines. Photo Credit.

What do you know about the most widely used gun in the world?

In a tale of historic irony, the Russian soldier who invented the AK-47 originally sought out to make simple farm equipment but would go on instead to create the most famous and infamous assault rifle known to man – a tool of immeasurable bloodshed.

Six decades after its creation, the AK-47 and its variants continue to be the most popular and widely used assault rifles in the world due to their reliability under harsh conditions, low production costs, ease of use and availability in every geographic region around the globe.

Ubiquitous worldwide, the AK-47 has been manufactured in countries the world over and seen service in both armed forces and irregular forces around the globe. Versatile and effective it has served as the base off of which many other types of both individual and crew-served weapons have been built.

In 2004, out of the estimated 500 million firearms in circulation globally, approximately 100 million belonged to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which were AK-47s.

Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who designed the AK-47, joined the Red Army in 1937. Initially, he was credited as having designed improvements on Soviet tanks. Following being wounded in combat in 1941 at the Battle of Bryansk against the Nazis, he sought to create a rifle far superior to that of his foes.

Reflecting on his invention, Kalashnikov said, “Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer. I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”

Though responsible for inventing the most destructive firearm known to man, Kalashnikov is not bothered by the effects his creation has had in the world. In a 2007 interview with the Associated Press, Kalashnikov remarked, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”

Designed to perform in any environment, the AK-47 is just as effective in sandy or wet conditions which jam more sophisticated weapons such as the U.S. M-16.

In a story that perhaps best honors and pays tribute to the efficacy of his design, at a 2007 ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the rifle Kalashnikov shared, “During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers.” There is probably no greater tribute to a weapon design than when your own enemy chooses to adopt it.

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.