It’s a discussion that has preoccupied some gun enthusiasts for decades. Which is better between the civilian-legal versions of the two primary military weapons of the Cold War superpowers: the AR-15 or the AK-47? I’ve owned both, so I figured that was as good a reason as any to pretend my opinion counts for anything and get to work.
As time has marched on, the positions have shifted a bit as economic realities changed. That’s why some older discussions on the internet might give you some bad information that’s not relevant in this day and age. What was true seven or eight years ago may or may not be true today.
Ultimately, though, it all boils down to which is better. To do that, we’re going to look at a handful of criteria where we’ll compare the two weapons and then discuss the differences. Once we’ve gotten through the whole thing, we’ll take a look at the whole assessment and make a judgment.
Before we start, however, let’s address one myth that tends to fly around in this discussion, and that is the claim that the Soviet’s were arming a conscript army while Americans were volunteers.
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The M-16 was adopted by the United States military in 1964. That was during the Vietnam War, a time when a sizeable percentage of our combat forces were draftees. In other words, conscripted soldiers made up at least a portion of both militaries.
Now, with that bit of history out of the way, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.
Once upon a time, there was no debate. The AK-47 could be had for far less than an AR-15, which made it very attractive to new shooters wanting a so-called “assault rifle” on a budget. In fact, many people wanting to get into tactical-style rifles gravitated toward the AK to start with.
However, things change.
While my first gun show had AK-47s for $399 each, today finding one for that price should be a big warning sign. A quick look over on Gunbroker shows that many AK-47s have a price tag of over $1,000. There are a number of reasons for that, and I don’t have the space to go into all of them, but the days of inexpensive AKs are over. While there are a handful that are priced a bit better–the lowest price for an actual 7.62×39 AK was around $700–they’re still pretty pricey.
AR-15s, however, seem to have a bit of a range in price. Budget AR-15s can be had for around $600+, and the choices are plentiful and from brands ranging from Core 15 to Smith & Wesson. The top end for AR-15s seems to be “how much you got?” Realistically, you can spend several thousand dollars on an AR if you want to, but that’s up to you.
I’m going to give the edge to the AR-15, here. Though, if AK’s are plentiful and inexpensive where you are, please adjust accordingly.
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The original AK-47 weighs a little over 8.5 lbs, with an empty magazine in the weapon.
By contrast, the stock AR-15 weighs around 6.5 lbs in a similar state.
In other words, you have a two-pound difference. Additionally, the 7.62×39 round of the AK-47 is a heavier round than the 5.56×54 the AR-15 is chambered in. In a fully loaded rifle of each, the difference in weight is even more noticeable. That makes the AR-15 the clear winner on this one.
Now, that said, weight changes as people add stuff onto a weapon, and the AR platform is notorious for having a plethora of accessories (addressed later). So, if you add too much stuff to your rifle, you negate weight savings.
When it comes to discussion on power, there’s a lot to unpack. Frankly, an entire post could be written on the topic. A few of them, in fact.
The general consensus is pretty clear; the 7.62×39 round is a more powerful round than the 5.56 round. That’s not really up for debate. It’s a bigger, beefier round that hits with more punch. Now, that size comes with costs. For example, see what I said about weight previously. However, that’s neither here nor there in this part of the discussion, so it won’t be a factor.
The key point to remember here is that 7.62×39 is legal to hunt deer in a lot of places where 5.56/.223 isn’t.
The power difference clearly goes to the AK-47.