Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reporter Learns That Guns Can Be Manufactured

The difference between "journalism" (originally, "yellow journalism") and reporting is that reporting involves informing the public of news, while "journalism" is focused around creating "news" or a narrative. This story from Mother Earth News falls into the latter category. 

The "journalist," Bryan Schatz, breathlessly announces:
The wooden and steel parts I need to build my untraceable AK-47 fit within a slender, 15-by-12-inch cardboard box. I first lay eyes on them one Saturday morning in the garage of an eggshell-white industrial complex near Los Angeles. Foldout tables ring the edges of the room, surrounding two orange shop presses. The walls, dusty and stained, are lined with shelves of tools. I'm with a dozen other guys, some sipping coffee, others making introductions over the buzz of an air compressor. Most of us are strangers, but we share a common bond: We are just eight hours away from having our very own AK-47—one the government will never know about.The AK-47, perhaps the world's best-known gun, is so easy to make and so hard to break that the Soviet-designed original has spawned countless variants, updated and modified versions churned out by factories all over the globe. Although US customs laws ban importing the weapons, parts kits—which include most original components of a Kalashnikov variant—are legal. So is reassembling them, as long as no more than 10 foreign-made components are used and they are mounted on a new receiver, the box-shaped central frame that holds the gun's key mechanics. There are no fussy irritations like, say, passing a background check to buy a kit. And because we're assembling the guns for our own "personal use," whatever that may entail, we're not required to stamp in serial numbers. These rifles are totally untraceable, and even under California's stringent assault weapons ban, that's perfectly within the law.
My first instinct is to yawn and say "so what." You could get just as excited to learn that hackers could build their own computers, or thieves build their own lock picks or buy crow bars and cutting tools without any identification. Next thing, Schatz will be telling us that milk can be had from a cow without any FDA oversight.The horror!

However, since I've actually built an AK, I want to emphasize that Schatz has actually exaggerated the ease of building an AK. In fact, if he had not been to a "build party" with experienced people, he probably would not have been able to do it.

Schatz spins his story to make it sound like most everything you need is in the "parts kit." Well, no. You have to buy a barrel (another $100 - $200 dollars) and buy or make a receiver. If you buy the receiver, you have to go through a licensed dealer. Schatz decided to build his receiver from a "flat." And, although hardly mentioned in the article, to build the gun legally, you also have to buy a bunch of other parts to comply with Federal regulations (generally the stock and pistol grips, the trigger group parts, together with the barrel and receiver--going to be at least another $200 even if you go with cheap stuff).

Also, building the receiver is not the easy, "one bend in a vise later and, voilà, it's a receiver, ready for trigger guards to be riveted on," that he describes. I wound up buying a receiver after looking at what was involved with making one from a flat. First, it isn't bent in a vise. It is bent into shape using a hydraulic shop press--if you don't have one, you have to buy one--$120 for a small one. Then it needs to be pressed into a form--a jig. He didn't mention that in his article. But the jig is another couple hundred dollars. Then, he sort of skipped over this part quickly, you have to weld bolt rails on the inside of the receiver. Yeah, that needs a welder and some experience and training at welding. Then, he only mentioned in passing, you have to heat treat the metal of the receiver around the rivet holes. That takes a torch and some more experience to do it correctly.

Schatz also skipped over the whole riveting process. You have to rivet the front trunnion, rear trunnion, and trigger guard into place. That means buying or building tools to crimp the rivets. Although you can build the tools from a pair of bolt cutters, some square steel stock, and bolts, you would still need to have the tools and metal working experience to do so. More time and money. And then you have to buy a set of rivets.

Once everything is riveted, you get to install the barrel. Some issues here that are skipped over by Schatz. First, not all barrels have the gas ports drilled or other cuts made. So, more machining possibly needed. Second, even if all that is already done, you have to press the barrel into place--hey, you get to use that hydraulic press again! However, you need another jig to hold the receiver in place and support the trunnion because otherwise you will just bend the trunnion. More money and/or something to machine.

Of course, you can't just push the barrel in and call it good. You have to correctly head-space the barrel or you might end up blowing up your gun or risk some other mechanical malfunction rendering it unusable and/or dangerous to the user. So, that requires a set of headspacing gauges (at least a "go" and "no go"). Another $60 or so for both gauges.

Then you have to press the gas assembly and front sight assembly onto the barrel, cut the notches in the barrel for said gas and front sight assemblies, and make sure your sights are correctly aligned.

Schatz did mention the sand-blasting and finish they had to put on the gun. Of course, everyone has a sandblaster in their garage. No? Neither do I. More money and time. And the finish he described takes more time, money, training, and equipment.

Then you have to install the trigger assembly, which actually isn't that easy if you are not familiar with what to do, the order to do it in, and have some additional tools.

Did I mention that it takes a lot of tools?

Finally, you have to test it and sight it in. Schatz apparently didn't bother sighting his rifle.

So, I call B.S. on his story. He wants his readers to get all excited that criminals will somehow learn the "secret" that you can build a gun at home (ever hear about zip guns?) and we will suddenly see whole gangs armed with these home-built AKs. Problem is, it takes a lot of time, money, tools and experience to do so. Things that Schatz borrowed from the experienced builders that he worked with. No gang-banger is going to do all that. Far easier to just buy a stolen gun for a couple hundred dollars.

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