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The AK series of firearms stems from the AK-47 design that has its origins as the select-fire military assault rifle designed in the Russian SFSR from 1945-1947 by Mikhail Kalashnikov (model nomenclature stands for “Avtomat Kalashnikova” or “Kalashnikov’s Automatic, Model of 1947”). The AK-47 was officially adopted by the Russian SFSR in 1949. Original design Russian-manufactured select fire AK-47s evolved through the 1950s until the introduction of the improved “AKM” series in circa 1959. The AKM became the ubiquitous service variant throughout Soviet satellite states and in various conflicts throughout the cold war.
In the late 1960s, Finland’s own Valmet company began producing a semi-auto variant of their RK-62 service rifle (itself a heavily modified and modernized Kalashnikov design variant) for international civilian sales and these guns would go on to be some of the first Kalashnikov design variants seen in the U.S. civilian market. Later in the early 1980s, semi-auto AKM clones were produced and imported into the U.S. civilian market by Egypt and then China (Norinco and Poly Technologies, Inc., these were largely banned from import to the U.S. in 1993 due to trade sanctions against China).
Since that time, many additional arsenals and factories in other countries including Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Hungary among others have had their own semi-auto variants imported into the U.S. for civilian sales. A series of legislative changes throughout the 1990s and early 2000s made the further importation or domestic production of AK variants challenging. On April 6th, 1998, even "sporterized" variations (imported 1994-1998) with thumbhole stocks and other non-military features were banned by presidential order. Beginning in the early 2000s, AK variants were commercially assembled in the U.S., using both newly manufactured and older original military parts and components.
After the sunset of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, renewed interest in “Eastern Bloc” firearms took hold of the U.S. market once again, leading to the vigorous importation of a multitude of AK variants from around the world and renewed domestic production alike. Beginning in 2014, a series of executive orders and sanctions from the Executive Branch limited or outright banned the importation of arms from Russia and on June 20th, 2017, a final series of U.S.-Russian Sanctions from the Executive Branch closed the importation of Russian Arms entirely. Sanctions, import limitations, and a drying market of Cold War era surplus parts continue to drive values of these guns higher as interest continues to grow.
While AK-47s and variations are not rare globally as it is estimated that between 40 and 150 million Kalashnikov variant rifles have been produced since the weapons introduction in 1947. Certain variants of the Kalashnikov pattern firearms are quite rare and desirable in the U.S. domestic market, and as such, can command prices many times that which one would expect to pay elsewhere in the world.
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