Knowing How to Use an AK-47:

British intelligence is warning the British government about the risk of an Islamist insurgency in Britain; thanks to Michael Totten [guestblogging at InstaPundit]) for the pointer, and for the cautionary words: "Seems a bit overstated to me, but then I'm not an intelligence chief."

Here's my one observation on the subject -- consider this excerpt:

As police and the security services work to prevent another cell murdering civilians, attention is focusing on the pool of migrants to this country from the Horn of Africa and central Asia. MI5 is working to an estimate that more than 10,000 young men from these regions have had at least basic training in light weapons and military explosives.

A well-connected source said there were more than 100,000 people in Britain from "completely militarised" regions, including Somalia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan and territories bordering the country. "Every one of them knows how to use an AK-47," said the source. "About 10 per cent can strip and reassemble such a weapon blindfolded, and probably a similar proportion have some knowledge of how to use military explosives. That adds up to tens of thousands of men." . . .

I too am worried about people who would want to violently revolt against the British government -- but does the point that "[e]very one of them knows how to use an AK-47" really mean much? Using guns is not rocket science. I don't personally know how to use an AK-47, but I'm pretty sure it's not tremendously difficult. Some of our commenters doubtless know more about this, but I suspect that stripping and reassembling it isn't that hard to learn, either. I can't speak confidently about the use of military explosives, but my sense is that those too are designed to be relatively easy to use. (Fighting effectively as a disciplined, trained, and well-led military unit is a different story, but that's not really a matter of knowing how to use an AK-47.)

If there are indeed many thousands of people who want to fight the British government, who are willing to kill many civilians, and who are willing to die doing so (since very many will die), that surely is a problem. But it would be a problem even if they had never touched an AK-47 in their lives. Conversely, I'll bet that very many Americans know all about how to use an AK-47 -- but we needn't worry too much about an Islamist revolt here.

Dave Egger (mail):
The AK47 is a fairly simple weapon, probably the easiest assault rifle out there in terms of use. Tearing it down and rebuilding it is obviously going to be a lot more of a feat than inserting a clip and pulling the trigger (which is pretty much idiotproof by design). Still though, I've owned an AK47 for a couple years, and I don't know that I could tear it down and rebuild it blindfolded.

Put simply, the AK47 was designed with uneducated Russian boys from the country in mind. Kalashnikov knew the Russian strength was numbers, not really strategy, or accuracy. The idea is to lay down as much fire as possible, as easily as possible, without jamming, and it does an excellent job.

How hard is it to
1. Insert clip
2. Pull slide to load first round
3. Pull trigger until bullets are gone
8.8.2005 9:41pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I guess if the Brits are really worried they should take the advice of one of their Nobel Prize winners and make sure that loyal citizens are ready:

"[E]ach man born in the Island broke to the matter of war.
Soberly and by custom taken and trained for the same,
Each man born in the Island entered at youth to the game-
As it were almost cricket, not to be mastered in haste,
But after trial and labour, by temperance, living chaste.
So ye shall bide sure-guarded when the restless lightnings wake
In the womb of the blotting war-cloud, and the pallid nations quake.
So, at the haggard trumpets, instant your soul shall leap
Forthright, accoutred, accepting-alert from the wells of sleep.
Do ye wait for the spattered shrapnel ere ye learn how a gun
is laid?
For the low, red glare to southward when the raided coast-
towns burn?
(Light ye shall have on that lesson, but little time to learn.)
-- The Islanders -- 1902 -- Kipling
8.8.2005 10:03pm
Mark (mail):
I'll second Dave's comments. I speak here from experience as a veteran of the Cold-War-era US Army; when I was assigned to a light infantry battalion in Alaska we were specifically cross-trained in a variety of Soviet weaponry, including the AK-47 and AKMS (folding stock variety of AK) as well as other stuff.

The AK-47 is by far the easiest assault rifle to learn, especially compared to the American alternative of an AR-15/M-16. The M-16 has to be disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled on a regular basis if you are firing it very often. If not, the weapon will jam or misfire. It is designed to operate very well when clean. The AK, in contrast, is designed to operate under poor conditions and when very dirty. As Dave attests, you don't have to keep cleaning the darn thing, you just have to keep loading it and firing it.

Our "training" in the US military on the AK was basically, "here is an AK. Here is ammo. Use it". Other Soviet weapons like antitank, tear gas, etc. took more detailed training, but the AK was just easy.

So yes, "know[ing] how to use an AK-47" is a very weak claim indeed.
8.8.2005 10:06pm
Allan (mail):
A female boss of mine at a previous job is a Russian immigrant, and she told me that children in Russia learned how to shoot and field-strip AKs in high school. To which I responded, "No fair!" (So presumably the influx of immigrants from eastern Europe may constitute a threat?)
8.8.2005 10:08pm
bill-10k (mail) (www):
You are correct — Basic proficiency in firing an AK-47, or any other rifle for that matter is easy to learn. A few days at most will do for average people. You can quickly learn the basic firing positions, weapon operation, and load unload operations. It is nowhere near as hard or mysterious as the media would like you to think.

Stripping and caring for a gun, any gun is also trivial — Even the dense should be able to learn do it with a few more days training tops.

If you look at most of the terrorists running around on TV, I doubt any have any real training. You can tell by looking at how they handle their guns and how they treat their firearms, what the guns look like, the general disrepair. They have little or no fire discipline. Waving a loaded gun around is a sure sign of bozos, you can kill your own.

A glaring example was the last al-Zawahiri tape where the firearm standing against the blanket over the cave hole had a missing pistol grip and was basically unusable as it was. It wasn't an AK-47, it was a Russian AK-74 a recent variant.

What takes training time is tactics. This is where most terror forces fail. The Iraqi army is a prime example of people who can shoot but fail at tactics. Tactical training and fire discipline is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. To train troops properly will take months — You also need some space to run excercises and fire the guns.

Most terror camps have little training in tactics, that is why when you watch on TV they look like thugs with guns, the real troops are well trained, disciplined and far more effective at killing the enemy.

So while 10,000 terrorist yahoos with guns is a formidable terror force if you are a TV watching civilian with no experience with guns, it is not a very effective force if you are the opposing real army. Lots of the 10,000 will die quick.

But they will terrorize the population, especially since the Brits are now mostly unarmed.

In Florida we have 300,000 CCW holders who can handle firearms and carry concealed. Most of the other 40 states with CCW permits have like numbers of armed citizens. So terrorists shooting up Florida neighborhoods are much less likely to succeed than they would in England.
8.8.2005 10:24pm
Bruno (mail):
I won't argue with all this rifle expertise and I agree completely on the key point of the right to bear arms. But you should consider that 10,000 young men from the Horn of Africa were brought up in a culture of extreme violence. Commenters are likely correct that anyone can learn to use these weapons very easily; I say that it's much harder to learn to use them indescriminatly on one's fellow man. Could this be one reason that the millions of gun owners in the US pose virtually no terrorist threat, while the 10,000 from Somalia (and so forth) do?
8.9.2005 12:23am
Matt22191 (mail):
Learning to field strip an AK should take no longer than an hour for a person with any mechanical aptitude at all, and perhaps a few hours for someone with no mechanical aptitude whatsoever. It really is that simple. (Instructions here. The written procedure looks much more complicated than it actually is.) Learning to load and fire it sufficiently well to terrorize an unarmed populace would require a matter of hours as well. Learning to use it effectively in conventional combat against a trained foe is a different matter, but terrorists don't need to meet that standard. So, no, I don't think there's anything particularly frightening about people who know how to operate assault rifles.

Bruno may be right that people who're inured to violence are cause for concern; however, that isn't the argument that the "well-connected source" in the article seems to have been making. And I note that there have been long periods in this country's history when hundreds of thousands of men have been thoroughly injured to violence, and very few if any of them seem to have developed into terrorists. However, conditions at Antietam and Normandy may not have been comparable to conditions on the streets of Mogadishu, so perhaps the comparison isn't valid.
8.9.2005 12:57am
Jay Kominek (mail) (www):
A short (3 minute 30 second) video on field stripping the AK-47 is online at:
8.9.2005 1:04am
Strophyx (mail):
It would have been somewhat surprising if a government whose first, second and last reaction to domestic crime has been to remove firearms from the hands of its own citizens (at least from those who choose to obey the laws) wasn't shocked by the threat posed by "westernized oriental gentlemen" with even the most rudimentary skills with guns, particularly scary-looking ones unlike those made by Purdy or Churchill.
8.9.2005 1:57am
Bob (www):
Ideally, the British government will rearm its civilian population and also give them permits to carry around small explosive devices too. That way they can really fight fire with fire. And somehow, because they are western people, they'll automatically know how to use a gun efficiently and orgainize with their compatriots so they can take on those terrorist yahoos.
8.9.2005 4:34am
I think the real point is that it is probably at least somewhat easier to recruit people into terrorist or insurgent attacks if they have prior training in the use of violence against people. For example, imagine a Red Dawn scenario in which a foreign power occupied parts of the United States. Wouldn't we expect Americans with military training to form the core of any insurgency?
8.9.2005 9:51am
grahamc (mail):
"millions of gun owners in the US pose virtually no terrorist threat"

Yes, they only cause the 40,000 or so normal gun-related deaths a year, not the miniscule number of terrorist gun-related deaths.
8.9.2005 9:55am
grahamc, apparently you misunderstood.

Bruno said, "millions of gun owners in the US pose virtually no terrorist threat."

To which you replied, "Yes, they only cause the 40,000 or so normal gun-related deaths a year, not the miniscule number of terrorist gun- related deaths."

Your comment makes no sense. The people who cause gun-related deaths comprise a tiny fraction of a percent of all gun owners. So quite obviously, the other 10s of millions of gun owners never harm anyone at all, except of course in self-defense.

8.9.2005 10:19am
bill-10k (mail) (www):
Bruno: you are correct in your analysis -- Terrorist have no respect for human life so they fire at will.

It is one thing to terrorize by just firing a weapon, but hitting what you aim at, that can be a different matter altogether. A rifleman with disciplined aimed fire is much more effective than a terrorist just firing his gun.

I think the reason U.S. gun owers don't shoot fellow citizens in the U.S. is because of our moral values, we value life. There are about 80,000,000 gun owners in the U.S.

Criminals and gang bangers will always kill, they belong to the same species as do the terrrorists.
8.9.2005 1:06pm
Jay Kominek (mail) (www):
40,000 or so? Only off by 20,000+, assuming every murder is committed with a firearm. (I won't bother counting suicides for the obvious reasons: Tall buildings, cleaning chemicals, etc.)

Also, you fail to take into account any of the beneficial aspects of firearms ownership. I refer you to for cited information on the topic.
8.9.2005 1:17pm
A death is a death -- and guns enable them. (Not cause, enable.) Probably the best defense against an armed revolt in the U.K. is that the British are very unlikely to get hold of an AK-47. The risk is what we have always seen -- suicide bombs, mass transit strikes, etc. Possibly a 9/11 type thing, but air security has improved all around. To the point where handgun deaths is not only the greater statistical risk, as it always was, but also the more pressing public policy concern in the U.S. Banning everything but hunting rifles in the U.S. would save lives, probably deter robberies on the margin (don't want to roll naked), and also would help prevent some (not all) domestic abuse deaths. It's true that many people use guns safely, esp. in other countries, but even the purported benefits do not address the fundamental fact that gun violence wreaks havoc on impoverished urban areas, and there is no countervailing justification for felons to have guns, anyone to have a handgun or assault rifle, and even if there were, the particular harms still outweigh the benefits. Psychological benefits I do not count.
8.9.2005 1:45pm
Jonathan Hightower (mail):
"gun violence wreaks havoc on impoverished urban areas"
Hey, do you have any idea how much a gun costs? It's the people in those impoverished areas who have the hardest time getting guns with which to protect themselves and their families. Except, of course, for the drug dealers and other criminals, who do have money to spare.
8.9.2005 1:51pm

Probably the best defense against an armed revolt in the U.K. is that the British are very unlikely to get hold of an AK-47.

Funny - the best defense against armed revolt in Zimbabwe is that the Zimbabweans are very unlikely to get hold of an AK-47. Mugabe learned that a while ago.
8.9.2005 6:02pm
Reply to Igglephan:

the particular harms still outweigh the benefits. Psychological benefits I do not count.

Then don't count the psychological benefits. How about the thousands of times daily, millions of times per year, that guns are used to *stop* violent crimes (here in the USA)? Do you ignore that benefit also?

8.9.2005 6:07pm
Mike 9999:
Simple instructions here:
8.9.2005 9:24pm
D.L. Man (mail):
The brits are funny. Even if they knew how to feild strip and AK-47 it wouldn't matter because brits are unarmed and helpless. And a small arm like a rifle is no match against a tank, or missile, or a fighter jet. You could have as many rifles as you want and at best put up a small fight.

The gun that the terrorist was showing behind him was an ak-74 you could tell because the magazine was straighter and the muzzle brake is only on those guns. Also it had a pistol grip but what you saw was a grenade launcher in front of the magazine. Not that it matters aks will fire as much as you need them to. But man do they get hot.
8.10.2005 7:51am
Random Guy (mail):
AKs are commie junk. Inaccurate past 100 yards or so. The time to get worried is when the Muslims start buying quality American bolt-action hunting rifles...
8.10.2005 10:22am
Rob Lyman (mail):
Two points:

1) Let us PLEASE stick to the point and not have a full gun-control debate here. There are plenty of other places to do that.

2) I must disagree with the posters who say learning to use an AK-47 is possible in a few hours. I have taught many people how to use mine, and I can get a novice loading, unloading, and hitting coke cans at 25 yards in a few minutes. My students have much better muzzle and trigger discipline than you average terrorist in the videos. With a new red-dot sight, I expect any new students will be clobbering those cans off-hand on their second or third try.

3) While my AK certainly looks like "crap," it does shoot where I aim it every time I pull the trigger, which is all I can ask for in a plinking/self defense gun
8.10.2005 9:19pm