On a what at the time seemed like a completely separate note: there was some buzz last week on Twitter about a Florida car dealer who is offering a $400 voucher toward the purchase of an AK-47 as part of a truck-sales promotion (advertising: "Free AK-47! See dealer for details"), ostensibly in honor of Veterans Day. One can fairly question -- and many have -- how American veterans are honored by the subsidized purchase of a weapon that has killed or wounded tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen, but more on that in a second.
This was interesting enough on its own, but then last night I came across this passage in the prologue to Chivers' book:
In Missouri in mid-2009, when Mark Muller, the owner of a car dealership, wanted to generate interest and lift flagging sales, he offered a voucher for an AK-47 with the purchase of every pickup truck. The offer was a gimmick. True AK-47s cannot be legally owned by most people in the United States, and the dealership offered a coupon worth only half the price of the semiautomatic version sold in American gun shops. Once again, as is often the case in conversations related to the Kalashnikov, facts did not matter. Nonsense prevailed. Muller's sales promotion generated international attention: a broadcast team from Al Jazeera turned up, as did another from Russian state television news. The coverage triggered old arguments. What does this weapon mean? Is it the sinister product of sinister forms of government, set loose on the world via dark processes that were, and often remain, all but unchecked? Or does its reliability and simplicity make it a symbol of the virtue of our best tools, a companion to the utility of a well-performing pickup truck? Muller was pleased. He appeared before the cameras brandishing a Kalashnikov in its semiautomatic form, enjoying free publicity while spurring business and tweaking the anti-gun crowd at the same time. Like many a man who has used a Kalashnikov, he held up his rifle for the cameras and grinned--the rascal's pose. The Kalashnikov was put to yet another use. (p. 15)Makes you wonder whether the manager of this Florida dealership is a fast reader, or just unoriginal.
So why choose to promote the Kalashnikov? Why not advertise a free M1911, the .45-caliber handgun developed by Browning and first produced by Colt almost 100 years ago, the U.S.-issue service pistol for three-quarters of a century? For me it seems clear that -- as Chivers suggested about the Missouri promotion -- the choice of an AK-47 is designed to tweak anti-gun folks. The ship has basically sailed on handgun ownership, but the question of the Second Amendment and assault rifles is still a charged and controversial one. By selecting the AK, the car dealer is not only saying "I support gun ownership by private citizens," but is also taking an assertive stand in the more controversial part of the Second Amendment debate.
But then why an AK and not an M-16 or an M-4, U.S.-produced and -fielded assault rifles? For one thing, the ubiquity of the Kalashnikov makes it instantly recognizable. But a combination of myth and fact makes the Eastern bloc's weapon of choice the ultimate in workmanlike reliability in the public mind, and probably makes it a more appropriate match to the truck owner's blue-collar, working-man's self-image than the uniquely military Colt firearms. Basically, it's just as Chivers tells us: the AK-47 and its derivatives have become Everyman's Rifle, for good or ill, around the world.