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Looking for a deal on AK-47s? Go to Africa.

Mike Goldwater/Getty Images Perhaps no gun on Earth is more popular than the Avtomat Kalashnikov, or AK. What makes the AK so popular? In a recent study by Oxford University Economist Phillip Killicoat, “Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles,” two theories emerge. The first is the weapon’s simplicity: The AK-47 was initially designed for ease ...

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Mike Goldwater/Getty Images

Perhaps no gun on Earth is more popular than the Avtomat Kalashnikov, or AK. What makes the AK so popular? In a recent study by Oxford University Economist Phillip Killicoat, “Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles,” two theories emerge. The first is the weapon’s simplicity:

The AK-47 was initially designed for ease of operation and repair by glove-wearing Soviet soldiers in arctic conditions. Its breathtaking simplicity means that it can also be operated by child soldiers in the African desert.”

But the AK is also less accurate, less safe, and has a smaller range than its competitors. So its popularity could also stem from its early competitive advantage:

In the case of the AK-47 that early advantage may be that as a Soviet invention it was not subject to patent and so could be freely copied. Furthermore, large caches of these weapons were freely distributed to regimes and rebels sympathetic to the Soviet Union – more freely, that is, than weapons were distributed by the US – thereby giving the AK-47 a foothold advantage in the emerging post-World War II market for small arms.”

AFP

Either way, there’s a lot of them floating around, something FP examined way back in 2004. Of the 500 million firearms found in the world today, an estimated 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are the famed AK-47 (the “47” refers to the year in which the rifle was designed for the Soviet army). 

Killicoat also looks at the price of an AK-47 in 208 countries between 1990 and 2005. He finds that, although the average global price of an AK-47 has risen from $448 in 1990 to $534 in 2005, in African countries purchasing an AK-47 is on average $200 cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Here’s why:

[T]his staggering Africa-discount is predominantly driven by porous borders. Since borders are more porous than elsewhere, the trade in assault rifles across the African continent approaches a deregulated market in which prices converge and there are only negligible trade barriers that arms supply must overcome to meet demand. At any one time, only a few African countries have very high demand for weapons due to conflict. This demand profile across the continent changes over time as localized tensions rise and recede. Porous borders enable the entire supply of weapons on the African continent to meet whichever country currently has high weapons demand.

In fact, the weapons are so ubiquitous in Africa that “Kalash,” an abbreviation of Kalashnikov, has become a popular boy’s name in some countries.

(Hat tip: HTWW)

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