The first model of the AK-47 assault rifle was introduced into service with the Soviet army in 1948. Designed to be cheap and reliable as well as simple to operate and produce, the AK-47 and its derivatives remain the world’s most widely used assault rifles seven decades later. In his book AK47: The Story of The People’s Gun, Michael Hodges estimates that there are as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles in circulation worldwide, one for every 35 people. On top of its cheap price, the weapon has proven hugely popular with soldiers, criminals and militants due to its durability and reliability.
Some 200 different types of Kalashnikovs are now produced in at least 30 countries and vast quantities of the weapons have turned up in trouble spots all over the world for decades, especially in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of them disappeared after the breakup of Yugoslavia, frequently ending up in the hands of terrorists and criminals. Most of the Kalashnikovs used in the Paris attacks at Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan theater were purchased in Belgium and traced back to the Balkans (and to Serbia in particular).
Considering that the black market is awash with AK-47s, how much would it cost to illegally procure one? A new report from Global Financial Integrity has shed some light on the shady world of arms smuggling and the cost of an AK-47 in several different countries. In Afghanistan, the gun could cost as little as $600 while on Mexico’s northern border with the U.S., the price would increase to $1,200. In Belgium where the Paris perpetrators obtained their Balkan Kalashnikovs, it has a price tag of about $1,135. An authentic model would cost $1,200 in Pakistan but a locally produced model can be obtained there for as little as $148. It is also possible to obtain an AK-47 through the darknet where costs typically range from $2,800 to $3,600.
According to the report, the price of an AK-47 increase the further it travels, with a smuggled rifle crossing the U.S.-Canada border expected to go up in price by as much as 560 percent. Illegal trafficking in small arms and light weapons is estimated to be worth $1.7 billion to $3.5 billion every year, equivalent to about 10 to 20 percent of the legal arms trade. With over a million Kalashnikovs still produced each year, one of the world’s foremost killing machines is still set to be at the center of the global arms trade for decades to come.