The AK-47 and its variants can be seen as a lot of things—amoral massacre machines, pop-culture icons, the most plentiful and influential weaponry of the past half century. But the gun can also be viewed as one of the most disruptive technologies ever. Quickly transcending the purposes and borders of the highly centralized state that created it, the AK-47 gives individuals and small groups a lethality that previously belonged only to rigidly organized and well-financed militaries.
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The result of a secret design contest, its components were simple, inelegant, workmanlike. Its ammunition lacked the stopping power of other rifle cartridges. Its barrel was too short to achieve the range of standard infantry rifles. When the Pentagon finally got its hands
on a few of the weapons in the 1950s, officials scoffed. But from this unheralded beginning, the Soviet Union’s modest little gun—dubbed the Avtomat Kalashnikova-47—would become one of the most recognizable artifacts of the 20th century.
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