Firearm Fact: The One Major Difference That Separates the AK-47 and M16

    Fritz W. Ermarth


    And it involves dirt. 

    There is a relevant cultural and historical legacy at work here. American arms are informed by a history and a legacy in which a colonial farmer could shoot down a squirrel or a British officer with a rifled musket from a hundred yards. Russian arms, meanwhile, are informed by a history of a lot of peasant soldiers slogging through the mud to engage. No wonder, then, that the two have evolved such distinct comparative advantages.

    Recently, Blake Franko of the National Interest published an article about the ubiquity of the Kalashnikov AK-47 and its variants. He focused on how its popularity is the result of its reliability in the hands of all kinds of shooters, in the toughest and dirtiest environments. This reliability made the AK-47 a formidable adversary and a valuable acquisition for American troops in Vietnam, when their M16s were jamming from shooting and local conditions.

    But there is more to the story that is worth exploring. It might have been useful to go on for a few lines to explain why the AK-47 was so reliable in those conditions. The Kalashnikov’s success has to do with its gas operating system.

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