Kalashnikov firm struggles, but ready buyers in US
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ANDREW E. KRAMER
The nickname of this town, home of the factory that makes Kalashnikov rifles, is the "Armoury of Russia." Over the years, it has armed a good number of other countries, too, as the lathes and presses of the Izhevsk Machine Works clanged around the clock to forge AK-47s and similar guns for insurgents and armies around the world. But these days, many of Izhevsk's weapons are headed elsewhere: the US.
Despite the gun's violent history — or perhaps because of it US hunters and gun enthusiasts are snapping up tens of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles and shotguns. Demand is so brisk that the factory has shifted its focus from military to civilian manufacture over the last two years. US sales of the civilian versions, sold under the brand name Saiga, rose by 50 per cent last year, according to officials at the factory, known as Izhmash.
Over all, the US is the world's biggest market for civilian guns. Russian arms accounted for a tiny portion of the $4.3 billion US gun market last year, but Saiga sales rose far faster than overall growth rate of 14 per cent in 2011. "I bought a Saiga because it was made in Russia, right beside its big brothers, the AKs," Josh Laura, an American, said.
Selling rifles to Americans and other civilians is fundamental to the efforts to save Izhmash, which has made Kalashnikovs since soon after their invention in 1947 but is now struggling. Demand for new military guns in the Kalashnikov family has evaporated. Simple, durable and relatively cheap to manufacture, about 100 million have been produced over the decades, or about one for every 70 people on earth. Inventories are overflowing, used AK weapons have flooded the market, and cheap Chinese knockoffs are stealing customers.
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