Shoddy Manufacturing Made the AK-47 Durable

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Image via NYT, this fully functional AK-47 is as old as my parents (made in 1954) and discovered in a Taliban gun locker in Afghanistan. Photograph by famed AK-47 expert C.J. Chivers

While researching a piece for Works That Work magazine on the endurance of the AK-47, I came across a very surprising little nugget of insight. You see, the AK-47 is like the living-dead of automatice rifles– you can abuse it, never clean it, throw it in a lake for a few weeks, bury it for a couple of decades. And then, just a little digging and minimal dirt removal later and pop! pop!! pop! pop! pop!! the AK will still spew bullets like water through a hose.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the clip below in which an AK-47 that has been buried for 18 years in the dirt of South Africa is excavated and fired.

Okay. Okay. So we all know that AK-47s are durable and all. But what I recently discovered is the reason.

Apparently in the mid-20th century gun manufacturers were concerned about making high quality parts with perfectly fitting components. Gun makers (especially in the US) would use precision machine tools to mill parts with exacting tolerances and little room for imperfection.

But Russian arms makers didn’t have the luxury of such machines. They had to work with relatively primitive assembly plants and a potentially inebriated workforce. So the automatic rifle that came off of the assembly line would rattle if the return spring was removed and tension between the parts was released. But this mediocre construction is the secret to the AK’s success!

From the NYT:

The very fact that its parts were “loose fitting, rather than snug” meant that it was “less likely to jam when dirty, inadequately lubricated or clogged with carbon from heavy firing.” “It was so reliable,” Chivers writes, that even when it was “soaked in bog water and coated with sand” its Soviet testers “had trouble making it jam.”

mind = blown

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Selling Fear: Gun Advertising Aimed At Women

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Yesterday afternoon I popped over to Quad Cinema on 13th Street and watched A Girl And A Gun, Cathryne Czubek’s recently released documentary on female gun owners in America. It is an excellent cross section of stories from a variety of women whose lives have been touched by firearms: from the Tai Chi instructor who purchased a handgun for protection against an ex-boyfriend to the mother and victim’s right’s advocate whose daughter was paralyzed by a stray bullet.

But the film churned up a whole host of contradictory feelings: pride in the women who have mastered gun use as a sport and tool for empowerment, anxiety and moral disdain at the fact that guns make it easier for us to kill one another, internal debate about whether women using guns was an appropriation of male patriarchy and oppression or an assertion of independence. I’m not sure that I’ll ever reconcile all of these reactions. But I am very clear on my feelings about one section of the film: fear-based gun advertisements aimed at women.

Scotsdale Gun Club Ad

For decades, firearms companies have told women that we need guns for protection and safety. And I hate this. I feel it is an acceptance of male violence — that it is energy and effort misdirected to treat a symptom instead of addressing the real problem and finding a solution. These advertisements seem to assume that the danger comes from outside of the home. And that it is the woman’s job to stop instead of society’s job to prevent.

And even firearms instructors buy into the idea that women need guns in order to not be murdered or raped. The very nice gentleman who taught me how to shoot two years ago talked about how I needed to carry a gun in my car in case it broke down in a rural part of the state and I was left alone on the side of the road. “Don’t be a victim,” he told me. A male instructor shown in A Girl And A Gun says “I absolutely guarantee to you that nobody ever raped Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Wesson.”

The World Health Organization recently reported:

Physical or sexual violence is a public health problem that affects more than one third of all women globally… intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.

ladies home companion

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“Making Guns”: pistol forms as tools for creation

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Designer James Shaw’s Plastic Extruding Gun, photograph taken by Paul Plews, via jamesmichaelshaw.co.uk

Ah, those critical UKers! First Tony Dunne on the need for a designers’ Hippocratic oath, then Francis North’s Comfort Gun. And now I’ve found recent RCA grad James Shaw and his Making Guns, three gun-shaped tools for additive creation. Rather than spewing out speeding bullets, Shaw’s three homemade gadgets respectively shoot out papier mache, pewter, and blobs of recycled plastic.

But what’s really fascinating about these funky object-makers is what the use of the pistol form can reveal about human impulses and the desire for control. These guns don’t kill or explode or rend. They don’t make holes in anything. They’re objects used for creation rather than destruction. Yet, as Shaw acknowledged in a piece last week on Wired.com:

We have nail guns, spray guns, and handheld drills, Shaw points out, something he attributes to “our desire to dominate and master materials and our environment.”

Is the form of the gun–regardless of its purpose or design–an inherently agressive object? One that necessarily connotes control? I suppose the same question could be asked of any tool used to shape the world, from shovels to iPhones. But it made me wonder if the form of the pistol at its most basic and abstract could ever fully escape its associations with violence and human agression.

Shaw’s closing quote from the Wired piece also struck me:

“The exciting thing about making new types of tools is that they will necessarily allow new forms and types of objects.”

New tools also allow new forms of social interaction and understanding of human capability. It’s interesting to think back to an era in which firearms themselves were new tools, newly shaping the people and relationships that surrounded them. The material creations of these guns help make one think of the immaterial changes wrought by conventional firearms.

For more images of Shaw’s Making Guns and their odd creations, visit his website: jamesmichaelshaw.co.uk

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Designer James Shaw takes aim with his Pewter Squirting Gun, photograph taken by Paul Plews, via jamesmichaelshaw.co.uk

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Thumbs And Ammo

It looks like it’s Ammunitions Week here at Gundesign.org!

I thought I’d follow-up my depressing last post with something utterly delightful: Thumbs & Ammo, a new blog featuring images of favorite action moments from film and television — with the guns photoshopped out and the thumbs left in. The result is a cheeky and upbeat re-imagination of pop culture action heroes. A few faves:

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By Emil P, via ThumbsAndAmmo.blogspot.com

 

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By Ignazio D, via ThumbsAndAmmo.blogspot.com

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By Charles B, via ThumbsAndAmmo.blogspot.com

 

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“Pork Bullets” and Racially Targeted Ammo

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One particularly ignorant ammunitions maker in Idaho released a line of pork-infused ammunition this week, claiming that the ammo would “strike fear into the hearts” of radical Muslims. From Jihawg Ammo’s website:

A natural deterrent that prevents violence just by owning it but will strike fear into the hearts of those bent upon hate, violence and murder. Jihawg Ammo is certified “Haraam” or unclean. According to the belief system of the radical Islamist becoming “unclean” during Jihad will prevent their attaining entrance into heaven. Jihawg Ammo is a natural deterrent to radical and suicidal acts of violence.

First off, the pork-infused paint is supposed to… what? Make Muslims not want to get shot? Does anyone want to get shot? Regardless of the kind of meat (or lack of meat) that the bullets were marinated in?

Second, I’m pretty sure that they made up the thing about how pork bullets would send a Muslim to hell. As HuffPo’s Senior Religion Editor, Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, said in a recent video segment:

“There’s no Muslim or any scholar who would say that this would be effective in sending a Muslim to hell. …This is like some concoction in some nut job in Idaho’s ‘ooo. Let’s do this.’”

I find this ammunition disturbing. Not only because it reveals the profound ignorance of its creators but also because of the way it is culturally pointed. These bullets are a way to dehumanize the individuals they are meant to kill — like needing to use silver bullets for werewolves. Creating this “special” ammunition is like saying that Muslims are a different kind of being altogether, requiring different ammunition.

When I attended the 2012 SHOT Show, I was struck by the sheer amount of firearms, ammo, and accessories geared toward fighting zombies. The Jihawg ammo reminds me of those ridiculous zombie guns except that the fantasy and fear created by this product reinforces racism rather than combats it. Zombie bullets neutralize some of my negative associations with firearms by undermining the implication that the guns would be used to kill people. There’s a sense of play and moral intuition at work in Zombie gun products.
Pork bullets, however, double down on the idea that firearms are objects of terror. Jihawg states this outright when they say that just knowing that these bullets exist is supposed to create a “peaceful deterrence” from “Jihadists.”
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image via Jihawg Ammo
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A Girl And A Gun

A friend sent me the link to this amazing trailer for “A Girl and A Gun.” It looks like it tackles some of my favorite issues– targeted advertising, genderization of firearms, narratives of security, gun aesthetics. It’s playing at Quad Cinema here in NYC beginning on July 5th. There should be a Q&A following one of the screenings that weekend. Anyone care to join?

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Remote controlled Firing

Huh. That’s a carbon-fiber octocopter armed with a .45 Taurus Judge revolver. I wouldn’t have selected a revolver for this little stunt. I doubt that the drone can handle the kickback (I could barely handle the kickback). Maybe that’s why there aren’t any uncut shots of the contraption firing and actually hitting anything.

Actually, I wouldn’t have done this stunt at all given the fact that creating a remote-controlled trigger is illegal in most states. From the Fish & Game code of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, etc etc…

3003. (a) It is unlawful for any person to shoot, shoot at, or killany bird or mammal with any gun or other device accessed via an Internet connection in this state.

And by “Internet connection” they weirdly mean “remote control”:

(f) For the purposes of this section, “online shooting or spearing” means the use of a computer or any other device, equipment,software, or technology, to remotely control the aiming and discharge of any weapon, including, but not limited to, any firearm, bow and arrow, spear, slingshot, harpoon, or any other projectile device.

That would make this remote controlled car gun illegal. And the law closed down this Texas company that let you hunt and shoot game from the comfort of your own home. I think that many people have an intuitive aversion to the idea of remote controlled consumer firearms. It causes one more level of removal from the consequences of firing.

But is the action of pushing a button or clicking a mouse really all that different from the action of pulling a trigger?

Reacting to the phenomenon of online hunting, this ethics expert thinks yes:

“The problem here is . . . the distance. It increases our sense that real killing is an anonymous activity,” said Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California. “You use something familiar, a mouse, to fire the weapon . . . much as computer games that involve shooting human or animal objects. Technically it’s possible. But as a society, do we want to do this?”

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Tiny Guns For Tiny Toys

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Image of “BrickArms Bandit — Mr. Black” via BrickArms

Last week CNN reported on a study by interaction expert Christoph Bartneck demonstrating that LEGO figures are getting angrier. In his examination of LEGO miniatures, the New Zealand-based Bartneck found that the little people are sporting harsher facial expressions and more tiny guns than ever before.

I was entirely prepared to pitch in and write a short (but thoughtful) post implying that the increased aggressiveness of the LEGO figures might mirror some sort of increased glorification of aggressiveness in the culture. But then I checked out Bartneck’s blog, specifically this post in which he responds to last week’s media firestorm around his research.

Surely there is a relationship between the artifacts and ourselves. We shape the tools and toys and they shape us. But it is a complex relationship in which causalities are difficult to establish. Our little LEGO study was never intended to give an answer to this question and it certainly cannot even give a hint. We have only been able to scientifically establish that there are now proportionally less happy faces and more angry faces. But this is the main question that has been asked by the reporters. I feel sorry to have to disappoint the reporters and readers. I am not able to give you any scientific proof that LEGO is good or bad for your children.

There seems to be another narrative embedded here. One in which the tools we use for play as children end up profoundly shaping our lives as adults. It’s the same sort of question involved in asking whether your kid should be able to play violent video games or use an adult’s iPad. It’s a question I think I’ve also been circling with posts about Keystone’s children’s rifles the V&A’s exhibition on war toys.

Obviously our objects and built environments inform how we think. But do angry LEGOs make angry children?

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Nike Shoes Transformed Into Pistols

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‘Nike Air Max Assault Weapons’ images created by Phil Robson, via HiConsumption

Yesterday’s post examined a piece of children’s furniture that appropriated the gun aesthetic. Today we’re flipping this idea to look at a collection of stunning concept guns that stole their look from Nike sneakers. Created by Australian graphic designer Phil Robson (aka Fil Fury), each of the Nike Air Max Assault Weapons takes the form of an existing firearm (Beretta, Uzi, etc) and remixes it with a running shoe. The result is a series of surreal, Nike-branded weapons that leaves me wondering what kind of world these objects might exist in.

A few ideas:

  • Dystopian future in which consumer brands become warring nation states that attract soldiers by providing trendy military swag.
  • Parellel universe in which Nike co-founder Phil Knight takes up marksmanship instead of running in college and builds off of his post-grad military service to create a wildly successful Japanese-inspired line of consumer firearms
  • An alternate reality in which technology and human compassion have made firearms obsolete-yet-highly-collectable decorative objects. Like all brands, Nike decides to get in on the action. Ah yes. Guns as the new Beenie Babies…

These are surprising objects, no? They subvert our expectation of what guns are supposed to look like. Actually, now that I think about it, they sort of remind me of the Neos pistol by Beretta. See what I mean:

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Huh. Interestingly enough this gun’s name Neos, like Nike, was also taken from ancient Greek. Nike was the Goddess of Victory, an embodiment of triumph. Neos means “new.” The appropriation and remixing of Greek art and architecture and is a recurring theme in the history of design. There may be something in this.

Additional images of Nike Air Max Assault Weapons (and one actual Nike sneaker, if you can tell) below. For more information on Robson’s work, visit his website or HiConsumption.

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Image of Nike Air Max sneaker via Nike; Images of ‘Nike Air Max Assault Weapons’ created by Phil Robson, via HiConsumption

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Where Gun Design Meets Crib Design

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John Browning Crib designed by Aaron Coston, images and information via Guns and Tactics

The above crib pays homage to the prodigious gun designer John Moses Browning (who created among other classics, the M1911 pistol that was standard-issue for the army for nearly 75 years and–interesting trivia–is the state gun of Utah). The front railing of the crib was designed to emulate the stocks of two 1895 Winchester lever-action rifles, the crib poles are made of steel rifle barrels, the headboard features Browning’s “buckmark” insignia and cut-outs of the Auto 5 shotgun. There are additional, subtler gun details that you can read about at Guns and Tactics but rest assured that  a great deal of thought, planning, and design ingenuity went into this piece.

The crib was created by gun-lover Aaron Coston when he learned that his wife was expecting their first child. He built it specifically to highlight the aesthetic and formal aspects of Browning’s designs:

…so many youth these days are indoctrinated with the idea that guns are bad. Guns are evil, and they’re only used to hurt people. I wanted my child to offer the contrasting truth as he grew up, that guns are beautiful, they aren’t evil, and the best time to start was right away.

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This crib points out an interesting aspect of our built environment and the way that we use objects to train our minds. Coston thinks that placing his child in the environment of the Browning Crib-–because it is a well-crafted, beautiful object—will encourage the child to appreciate the beauty of guns. So the crib is a teaching tool, a device that lets this dad tell a particular narrative about the place of firearms in society and culture. But it is also a way for Coston to affirm his own relationship with firearms and it probably serves as a reminder to him and his wife that guns are very much a part of their lives and the life they want to give their child.

I’m been writing a fair number of posts lately on guns and children and war toys. I think I’m so fascinated by this because objects created for children can reveal underlying social ideas about what makes a good life and a good human being. What are the objects that will train future citizens to be awesome? How should they think about those objects? As this crib demonstrates, there is a (not insignificant) portion of the US population that sees firearms as meaningful tools for citizenry.

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John Browning Crib designed by Aaron Coston, images and information via Guns and Tactics

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