How did the Kalashnikov assault rifle and variants of that brand’s AK-47 become the weapon of choice for those who commit spectacular crimes that seize the attention of the world? C.J. Chivers of the New York Times explores how these tools of modern terror have become “the ready amplifier of evil and rage.” The AK-47, the world’s most abundant firearm, is an affordable and simple-to-use assault rifle of Soviet lineage that allows a few people to kill scores and menace hundreds, and fight head-to-head against modern soldiers and police forces.
In the 1940s, teams of Soviet gunsmiths and engineers set out in a contest to design a rifle that would combine the rapid-fire ferocity of machine guns with the portability of lighter-weight arms. The weapon was to be a conceptual copy of the sturmgewehr, which Nazi Germany had fielded late in World War II. Senior Sgt. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, a wounded Soviet war veteran, was credited with developing a prototype that was accepted in 1947. A few years later, a version of the weapon entered mass production in Russia and became the standard rifle for almost all Communist ground forces. It soon left left its mark.