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The recent passing of the inventor of the AK-47 made me think of the many comparisons and confusions regarding the tern "assault rifle". I take no position here on the regulation of such rifles, and do not own one under the 2014 laws. The comparison here is not the usual one between the AR-15 and the AK-47 patterns, but primarily between the FN-FAL pattern and the AK-47 pattern, a colonial assault rifle versus an anti-colonial assault rifle and how it reflects the complexity of post-colonial liberation struggles. The Cold War binaries of Anti-Communist and Communist influenced the design and proliferation of selective fire battle rifles in the post-WWII period. The bigger issue is the massive global proliferation of small arms whether from existing surplus stocks or from new production, given the proliferation of new types and new requirements for warfighting. These will not change especially since for example, the AR-15 as a more short-range rifle will be displaced by future variants of the AR-10 with its larger round, a lesson affected by the rules of engagement in Southwestern Asia.

Both the FN-FAL and the AK-47 are symbols of the Cold War, but only one symbolizes liberation struggles whereas the Belgian FN FAL and its variants represented colonial powers and their various counter-insurgencies. The Kalashnikov AK-47 and its numerous variants have become more ubiquitous and romanticized with near-mythologized reliability and durability. Certainly all sides in any military conflict since WWII have used both weapons, but the US domestic issues about "assault rifles" are clearly defined by assault rifles' definition as military weapons.  

The key issue here is the standardization differences in terms of ammunition 7.62mm x 51mm (NATO) versus 7.62mm x 39mm and their ballistics as well as the broader history of smaller higher velocity rounds in 5.56mm (NATO) and 5.45mm for a variety of other weapons using similar or even experimental receiver patterns. Unlike the fear of the symbolism of assault rifles, the proliferation of plastic 3-D printers and logocentric gun regulation, the standardization of ammunition rather than any regulation of weapons access will determine the future lethality of small arms on a global scale. That standardization has as much to do with the history of political alliances as it does with any industrial or trading infrastructure.

The Fusil Automatique Léger ("Light Automatic Rifle") or FAL is a self-loading, selective fire battle rifle produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN). During the Cold War it was adopted by many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, with the notable exception of the United States. It is one of the most widely used rifles in history, having been used by more than 90 countries. The FAL was predominantly chambered for the 7.62×51mm NATO round, and because of its prevalence and widespread use among the armed forces of many NATO countries during the Cold War it was nicknamed "The right arm of the Free World"....
 The standard metric-dimensioned FAL was manufactured in South Africa (where it was known as the R1)....199,832 LIW R1 rifles, 12,237 LIW R2 rifles, and 3,708 Springfield M1 rifles were scheduled for destruction in 1999.

The Flag of Mozambique

In 2005, a competition was held to design a new flag for Mozambique. 119 entries were received and a winning flag was selected, but to this day the flag remains the same. This came in the context of a drive to create a new crest and anthem for the country. Mozambique's parliamentary opposition would specifically like to see removed from the flag the image of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, which symbolizes the nation's struggle for independence, according to press reports.

The AK-47 is a selective-fire, gas-operated 7.62×39mm assault rifle, first developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. Design work on the AK-47 began in the last year of World War II (1945). After the war in 1946, the AK-46 was presented for official military trials. In 1948 the fixed-stock version was introduced into active service with selected units of the Soviet Army. An early development of the design was the AKS (S—Skladnoy or "folding"), which was equipped with an underfolding metal shoulder stock. In 1949, the AK-47 was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces and used by the majority of the member states of the Warsaw Pact.

The original AK-47 was one of the first assault rifles of 2nd generation, after the German StG 44. Even after six decades the model and its variants remain the most widely used and popular assault rifles in the world because of their durability, low production cost, availability, and ease of use. It has been manufactured in many countries and has seen service with armed forces as well as irregular forces worldwide. The AK-47 was the basis for developing many other types of individual and crew-served firearms. More AK-type rifles have been produced than all other assault rifles combined.

For this diary, the important point is that while there are many producers of such small arms, the history of their proliferation has more fine-grained details that often do not correspond to the ideological conflicts. The availability of the SKS (above, lower) as a military collectible made its US proliferation problematic. The following is the South African example for this diary as we remember the passing of Madiba and the role of Rhodesia in the history of the end of South African Apartheid.
What can the AK-47 teach us about gun control in South Africa? Civilians in South Africa aren’t allowed to own a functioning automatic AK-47. Civilian ownership of automatic weapons are specifically prohibited under our current firearms control legislation.

One would hope and expect firearm laws to make weapons such as the AK-47′s very expensive and difficult for criminals to get their hands on. Is that not one of the implicit goals of firearm restrictions? Unfortunately it seems that to get an illicit AK-47 in SA is neither difficult nor expensive. Consider the chart below, an AK-47 priced in Rand at today’s USD/ZAR exchange rate is about R1,579. In the US the price and in Russia the AK-47 will cost you about R 4,385, much more than South Africa. Date from GunPolicy.org.

Ironically, the AK costs less in SA than it does in Russia, the country of its origin. Anyone with knowledge of firearms will tell you that R1,600 is not much for an assault rifle....In conclusion; we have to investigate whether having less legal gun owners and a more active market for smuggled illegal weapons is an acceptable outcome we seek from our firearm control laws. Is this shaping the type of society we want to live in?

Armscor (or ARMSCOR), the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (in Afrikaans: Krygstuig Korporasie van Suid-Afrika, or Krygkor) is a South African government-supported weapon-producing conglomerate that was officially established in 1968, primarily as a response to the international sanctions by the United Nations against South Africa that began in 1963 and were formalised in 1967.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, South Africa relied heavily on arms imports (mainly from Britain). However, South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, and the imposition of a voluntary United Nations arms embargo in 1963, provided the impetus for a shift towards the establishment of a domestic arms industry. The Armaments Production Board was established in 1964 to control the manufacture, procurement and supply of all armaments for the South African Defence Force (Simpson, 1989:222). The board also took over the Department of Defence's workshops and the ammunition section of the South African Mint, and was authorised to co-ordinate arms production in the private sector. By the mid-1960s, nearly a thousand private sector firms were involved in various aspects of domestic arms production

From 1966 to 1989 the SADF, with its South West African Territorial Force auxiliary, fought a counter-insurgency campaign against South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) rebels in South-West Africa (Namibia). These operations included the raising of special units such as the South African 32 Battalion. They also carried out operations in support of UNITA rebels in Angola and against the Cuban troops that supported the Angolan government....

Also during the 1970s, the SADF began accepting "non-whites" and women into the military as career soldiers, not only as temporary volunteers or reservists; however, the former served mostly, if not exclusively, in segregated units while the latter were not assigned to combat roles. By the end of the 1970s, the army had become the principal defender of the apartheid regime against the rising tide of African nationalism in South Africa and the region.

Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation" in both Xhosa and Zulu) was the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, and was commonly referred to in abbreviation as "MK". A military alliance between MK and ZIPRA guerrillas was announced on 19 August 1967 by ANC Deputy-President Oliver Tambo and James Chikerema, Vice-President of ZAPU
(in the late 1970s)...At the time, some Rhodesians said the still embittered history between the British-dominated Rhodesia and the Afrikaner-dominated South Africa partly led South African government to withdraw its aid to Rhodesia. Ian Smith said in his memoirs that even though many white South Africans supported Rhodesia, South African Prime Minister John Vorster's policy of détente with the Black African states ended up with Rhodesia being offered as the "sacrificial lamb" to buy more time for South Africa. Other observers perceived South Africa's distancing itself from Rhodesia as being an early move in the process that led to majority rule in South Africa itself.
Ultimately the greatest danger in the region may have been all varieties of foreign interventions as well as the rise in the South African MIC, from small arms to nuclear weapons, a model occurring elsewhere in the world such as Western Asia. As with all dangerous drugs, the dealers are the ones who need watching.


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