The Great Debate: AR-15 vs. AK-47

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The Great Debate: AR-15 vs. AK-47

Americans are pretty familiar with the AR-15 rifle. After all, it’s called the “American Rifle,” even though “AR” means something totally different. But most of us also know of the AK-47 even if we haven’t used one ourselves.

The reverse is also true. Most people who use AK-47s live on the other side of the world. Because of this apparent competition and because of the real history behind both firearms, a great debate has sprung up.

Which is better? The AR-15 or the AK-47?

In reality, the answer isn’t super clear. That’s because both firearms are designed for different needs and have different advantages as a result. Still, we can shed some light on the situation and break down both firearms in detail.

Let’s get to the bottom of this debate once and for all.

An Overview of the AR-15

The AR-15 is a personal weapons platform that is also the most widely used rifle-style firearm across the US military’s various branches. It also comes in the military-used M-16 variant – the only big difference between the classic AR-15 and the M-16 is that the latter can switch from semiautomatic fire to fully automatic fire. This means that the AR-15 is not an assault weapon, while the M-16 is an assault weapon.

People like to compare the AR-15 to the AK-47 due to both weapons’ similarities and versatility.

The AR-15 is also an old rifle, having been designed in the 1950s and put into active service as early as 1959. It's a gas-operated rifle that is traditionally chambered for 5.56 NATO ammunition, although it is also commonly used with .223 Remington ammo.

It can only typically be fired in semiautomatic configuration (unless it is the above-mentioned M-16 variety). The AR-15 was first used en masse during the Vietnam War, but it had a rough launch and was initially known for its propensity to jam, especially in the muddy jungles of that war’s landscape.

However, the rifle was adjusted and modified over the years and became a big firearm staple to the community.

There are great reasons for this! In fact, the AR-15 is now known as a highly accurate rifle that has an effective range of about 600 yards. This is significantly more than what the AK-47 can typically provide (more on that below). You can stretch this range out even more if you add a scope or another optic.

Furthermore, the AR-15’s base version is lightweight, especially compared to other common and versatile rifles. However, due to its modifiability, this weight can skyrocket depending on the attachments and other things you might add to the base platform.

Speaking of modifications, the AR-15 is in part so popular because you can add so many stocks, sights, barrels, and other attachments to make it fit better for your needs. No matter how you modify the AR-15, it fires relatively small bullets, so it produces easy-to-control recoil. This, as well, makes it a great “starter” rifle for future hobbyists.

This being said, the AR-15 is a little pricey (if you want a good one, that is). It also doesn’t have nearly as much stopping power as many other rifles. So the AR-15 is really only good if you’re active military and really need a tactical rifle or you plan to use it for target shooting or competitions.

One other thing – you might occasionally hear gun control activists or Democrats say that AR stands for “assault rifle.” But it actually stands for “ArmaLite,” which is the AR-15’s manufacturer. 

Pros:

  • Super easy to modify, allowing you to tailor a basic AR-15 platform to your needs or specifications
  • Relatively lightweight and low recoil
  • Has good effective range, particularly if you combine your AR-15 with a good scope and stock

Cons:

  • Not as durable as the AK-47
  • Can be expensive to purchase

The AR-15 is arguably the iconic American rifle. It’s no wonder you can find this rifle on a variety of American hats, shirts, and other apparel. The AR-15 is lightweight, easy to control, and easy to modify. This makes it a perfect match for Americans who prize their individuality in every aspect of their lives.

An Overview of the AK-47

The AK-47 is the most widely used firearm in the world. Estimates indicate that over 100 million of these platforms have been manufactured to date. This is partially because it’s also an old rifle, having been around since 1949 when the Soviet Armed Forces designed an official rifle for their military.

The AK-47 is a gas-operated and long-stroke gas piston rifle. It's chambered for 7.62 x 39 mm rounds and is renowned, more than anything else, for its superior durability. In fact, there are tons of stories demonstrating how the AK-47 will continue to operate in extreme cold, snow, rain, and even sand. Even dropping the rifle is unlikely to significantly affect its viability in the field.

Potential even better, the AK-47 is relatively easy to operate and even maintain. You can strip it down and see how it works with minimum gun cleaning experience. Many AK-47 enthusiasts appreciate this aspect since they can teach people how to use these rifles without having to also teach a lot of gunsmithing technical skills.

The 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition used by the AK-47 has good penetrative capability and, therefore, more stopping power compared to the AR-15. Plus, the AK-47 is relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the AR-15.

This being said, the AK-47 doesn’t have as much effective range compared to the AR-15, and it weighs a little more than a standard AR-15. Furthermore, its recoil is a little tougher to control, especially for those without a lot of upper body strength.

Pros:

  • Usually inexpensive to purchase
  • Very durable under practically any conditions or in any environment
  • Relatively easy to maintain and strip down to clean

Cons:

  • Produces more recoil and is heavier than the AR-15
  • Not very modifiable

The AK-47 is a versatile and extremely durable rifle first popularized by the Soviet Union. It’s one of the most durable weapon platforms ever created and has excellent stopping power and reasonable accuracy at short to medium-range. But it’s not all that modifiable, and it is not associated with America nearly as much as the AR-15.

Summary of the Differences Between the AR-15 and AK-47

To make things a little clearer in this debate, let’s break down the big differences between the AR-15 and the AK-47.

  • The AR-15 is chambered for 5.56 NATO rounds on average. The AK-47 is almost always chambered for 7.62 x 39 mm rounds, although a few other variations exist.

  • The AR-15 has an effective range of around 600-800 yards. The AK-47 can only reach between 300-400 yards.

  • The AR-15 rifle operates with a gas impingement system. The AK-47 operates with a long-stroke piston system.

  • The AR-15 is more easily modifiable, allowing for the addition of various attachments or improvements. The AK-47 is simpler and easy to maintain but is not as modifiable.

  • The AR-15 is generally lighter than the AK-47 and produces less recoil.

As you can see, while both rifles are used throughout the world, there are serious differences that can make one or the other a better pick for your needs or your shooting style.

Which Rifle Is Right for You?

Now you’ve got a good overview of the general debate. But you have to decide which rifle is better for you.

In truth, either rifle could be a good pick. It just depends on what you need and what your experience level is.

In general, Americans prefer the AR-15. But this may also be because of a kind of cultural quasi-patriotism since the AK-47 is usually associated with the Russians (and for good reason – it was their rifle, after all). As a result, most Americans have experience with AR-15 instead of AK-47s.

Furthermore, many American gun owners are hobbyists by default. So they like modifying their weapon platforms and adding things to them to tailor their shooting experiences for specific outcomes. The AR-15 is great for these purposes.

On the flip side, you can't go wrong with the AK-47 if you need something easy to use and control and super easy to clean, particularly in the field. But the AK-47 is also a good pick for its long-term durability. You can easily maintain an AK-47 for decades on end, provided you clean it regularly.

Summary

As you can see, both the AR-15 and the AK-47 are quality rifle platforms. If you're in doubt, consider trying to find both at a local gun show or see if there's a shooting range that will let you try them out for yourself. Both weapons, despite their widespread use, feel quite different when you actually put bullets downrange.

 

Sources

Responses to “20 Facts About Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47” | The Globalist

Kalashnikov AK-47 (& close derivatives) Technical Information | Small Arms Survey

AR-15 Basics: A Guide To The AR-15 Platform | Gun Carrier 


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