One of the first true assault rifles, the AK-47, or Kalashnikov, was designed for soldiers who have to endure terrible conditions on the battlefield: It's light, it can carry a lot of ammunition, and it can withstand harsh weather and poor handling. The gun's design and ubiquity also have made it popular among small-arms dealers — as well as insurgents, terrorists and child soldiers.
C.J. Chivers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent for The New York Times, has encountered the Kalashnikov while reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq. His new book, The Gun, traces the migration of the AK-47 across the world, detailing the consequences of its spread.
One estimate by the World Bank suggests that 100 million of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide are variations of the Kalashnikov.
"There's a lot of measures of a weapon, and one of them is how they work against a conventional foe, like the United States military," he says. "That's not the best measure. The best measure is how they work against a larger set of victims: how they work against civilians, how they work at checkpoints [and] how they work in the commission of crimes for all of these things. It's a [terribly effective] weapon."
Chivers has covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya and served as the Times' Moscow correspondent from June 2004 through mid-2008. He also served as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1988 to 1994. He received the Livingston Award for International Journalism for his coverage of the collapse of commercial fishing in the North Atlantic and shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for his dispatches from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
CJ Chivers Blog: http://cjchivers.com