Earlier today, the inventor of what many consider the most popular rifle in the world – Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov – died following a long illness, and his passing is being reported by news media all over the world, including the Seattle Times, and leave it to the Associated Press to demonize him, just a little.
“Mikhail Kalashnikov,” says reporter Jim Heintz, “started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the world's most popular firearm.
“It was the carnage of World War, when Nazi Germany overran much of the Soviet Union, which altered his course and made his name as well-known for bloodshed as Smith, Wesson and Colt,” the report added.
By comparison, the Washington Post’s extensive obituary, picked up by the Seattle Times, tells the story of a poor Russian kid who was drafted into the Red Army, became a Communist and spearheaded the development of a firearm that is in circulation all over the globe. Alas, and even Kalashnikov knew it, the rifle bearing his name has fallen into some of the most wrong hands on the landscape.
Yet Kalashnikov, who became a Soviet general, once noted in an interview, “I sleep soundly. I created a weapon to defend the motherland. It was not my fault that it was sometimes used where it should not have been. That is the fault of politicians.”
For someone who never lived in the United States, Gen. Kalashnikov could obviously turn a phrase sure to hit a sensitive American nerve.
Perhaps ironically, when the former Soviet Union collapsed several years ago, and people took to the streets, a famous image of the insurgents, many armed with AK-47 rifles, flashed across the news wires. It was then that the AK-47 became, for that moment in history, at least, what one writer dubbed at the time "the symbol of freedom in a nation of slaves."
His obituary says he was born on Nov. 10, 1919 in the south-central Russian village of Kurya, the eighth of 18 children. Ten of his siblings never made it to adulthood. But, of course, those were tumultuous times in Russia, made famous by Boris Pasternak’s “Dr. Zhivago.” Lots of children died in those days.
The AK-47 is not a particularly attractive firearm, and many contend it is not especially accurate. What it is, however, is reliable under nearly all conditions and it fires a cartridge, the 7.62x39mm, which is roughly the equivalent of the famous .30-30 Winchester, a round that has accounted for more deer and black bears in North America than anyone can count.
People actually do hunt with semi-auto versions of the AK, and inside of 150 yards, especially if equipped with a good scope, it can clobber deer with the best of them. Kalashnikov never envisioned his creation as being a popular deer rifle, of course.
Grn. Kalashnikov was no capitalist, so he didn’t patent the rifle design, nor reap any royalties from the many people who copied his gun. The closest as he came to capitalism was allowing his name to be used on various products, including vodka that came in a designer bottle shaped like an AK-47.
Perhaps Kalashnikov summed it up in a way that far too many might dismiss as naive: “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago.’ There are other values.”