The AK-47: the world’s
favourite killing machine

26 June 2006


Kalashnikov1 assault rifles are the most widespread military weapons in the world. It
is estimated that there are between 50 and 70 million of them spread across the
world’s five continents. They are used daily by soldiers, fighters, and gang members
to inflict untold suffering in many countries. The spread of these weapons continues
largely unchecked by governments, threatening the lives and safety of millions as
weapons fall into irresponsible hands. More than ever, the Kalashnikov rifle is the
weapon of choice for many armies, militias, armed gangs, law enforcement officials,
rebels, and other private actors who abuse fundamental human rights and operate
beyond the international humanitarian law parameters laid down by the Geneva
Conventions and other relevant international law.

Kalashnikov versus other assault rifles
AK assault rifles are in the inventories of nearly half of the world’s armies, making
them by far the world’s most prolific and used assault rifles. It is also the firearm of
choice for virtually every armed group operating from every continent on the globe.

Images from criminal organisations or other armed groups nearly always depict them
wielding Kalashnikov rifles.

At least 82 countries currently list AK or AK-derived assault rifles within their state
arsenals. The next most popular assault rifles are the Heckler and Koch G3, originally

4 The AK-47, Control Arms Campaign, June 2006
from Germany, and FN Fal assault rifles, originally from Belgium. These are listed as
in use in approximately 50 and 65 of the world’s armies respectively. This is followed
by the US-produced M-16, currently listed as in service in up to 42 countries. 11 In
terms of actual numbers of assault rifles produced, the AK outstrips the USproduced
M-16 assault rifle by a factor of ten to one. Global estimates put the
production of AK rifles in the region of 50–70 million, although estimates of 100
million are not uncommon.

By contrast, world production of G3 assault rifles, the
next most prolific assault rifle, is believed to be between 15 and 20 million, and M-16
assault rifle production is estimated to be between 5 and 7 million.

Demand in many parts of the world for Kalashnikov assault rifles remains strong, not
least because the price remains relatively low. Unlike the price of other global
commodities such as oil and gas, copper and zinc, the price of a Kalashnikov
continues to fall in real terms, aiding its proliferation in poverty-stricken regions of the
world. The price of an AK-47 derivative varies depending on sale location, quality,
and quantity. A brand new Kalashnikov from a Russian factory costs around $240,
depending on the derivative and size of the purchase.13 In Africa an AK-47 can be
bought for around $30 in areas where supplies are plentiful.14 Thousands of
Jordanian Kalashnikovs bought by the US for the new Iraqi security forces retailed at
approximately $60 each.15 Stockpiled Balkan AK-47 variants cost US and European
buyers between $50 and $100 per rifle.16

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