I’m in the market for a carbine. Don’t need it. I’ve got a perfectly serviceable Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun in .12 gauge that handles the home defense chores just fine, thank you. I’m the proud owner of a 1911 semi-auto .45 ACP that shoots just dandy. I’ve got access to my dad’s .38 special wheel-gun, should the mood strike me. And yet I’d like to own a carbine. Maybe do some plinking. Target practice. Whatever. When I set my sights on something, I do my homework. I want to know the pros and cons of a given model. In my initial research, two weapons have jumped to the fore: the AR-15 and the AK-47. Once I narrowed my choice down to these two models, my research veered sharply into the realm of the kind of religious zealotry normally reserved for discussing Macs versus PCs. Or Jesus vs. Allah.

For [both of] the uninitiated, Don Gammill Jr.’s series on the AR-15 is coming down the pike. Suffice it to say, the AR-15 is the civilian version of the military’s M-16. Most commonly chambered in .223, the AR-15’s available in a variety of calibers, all the way down to the .22 LR. The AR-15 is to rifles what the Jeep is to SUVs, the 1911 is to handguns: a jack of all trades you can customize any way you like.

The AK-47 was originally designed by Mikhail Kalishnikov back in ’47 (Automatik Kalishnikov 1947) and quickly became the workhorse of the Soviet military, and all their satellite states. Since replaced with first the AKM and then the AK-74, the AK-47, chambered in 7.62mm, is something akin to the Creative Commons licensed version of a rifle. It’s used all of the world, because it’s cheap to manufacture and requires very basic maintenance. There are millions and millions of them in active service around the globe.

The AR was designed to emphasize versatility. Originally created as a replacement for the the AR-10, both of which were originally designed by Eugene Stoner for ArmaLite (the “A” in AR-15). Early AR-15s/M-16s (the fully-auto version of the AR-15) had a bad rap in Vietnam, where they were first deployed. Early units acquired a reputation for jamming, fouling and malfunctioning at the most inopportune of times (i.e. “when your life depended on it.”)

Design modifications fixed those problems. But the design is still perceived to be more likely to foul and less likely to run under adverse conditions than the AK-47. On the other hand, a clean and fully-functional AR-15 is a highly accurate weapon. And fans report that it’s as reliable as any other rifle.

By contrast, the AK-47 was designed to be dragged through the muck and mire and still retain it’s ability to shoot. By reducing their design tolerances—a polite way of saying choosing cheap and fast over good)— Kalishnikov was able to render a weapon that was more reliable under adverse conditions. Accuracy was sacrificed—the principle rap against the AK.

As far as the battle for the customizing market, the AR wins, hands down. You can purchase laser sights, ring sights, lights, foregrips, folding stocks, uppers in a variety of calibers—everything but a coffeemaker for the AR-15. (And I’m not convinced that some enterprising aftermarket manufacturer hasn’t begun work on one.) While you can get a variety of add-ons for the AK, the choice of AR mods makes Mustangs look like Bugattis.

The AR-15 features a receiver made from machined aluminum. The AK is made from pressed metal. Most AKs you can buy are used or NOS (new, old stock – i.e.: surplus). Most AR-15s are new. You’ll pay a little more (on average) for the typical AR-15 than you will for most AK-47s, by maybe $400 to $500. Both are currently in fairly robust supply, following a shortage of ARs after the last Presidential election.

I’m leaning toward the AR-15, but I’m not ready to make that leap. A little range time should sort that right out. Of course, any help from TTAG’s armed intelligentsia would be most appreciated.

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35 Responses to Which Gun Should I Buy: AR-15 or AK-47?

  1. Don't buy it, build it. You can build an AR and save a few bucks (read: About $150) over buying one off the shelf. You can also save quite a bit on tax if you mail order. You can also build exactly what you want. More than a few web sites on the internet will point you in the right direction.

    AKs used to have the market cornered on "cheap ammo" which was a point in their favor – but then two things happened: The AR market exploded, and the Russians (and others) got smart and started cranking out 5.56×45 (a/k/a .223 Remington) by the boatload and shipping it over here.

  2. Hi Brad,

    After going through your exact same motions, I would up purchasing both. Why? Why not? There are amazing deals to be had on an AK. Moreover, the AR platform can be fully customized to be a beautiful tack driver. My suggestion is an inexpensive AK (WASR10) and a fully-tricked out AR. That is the route I chose. Then you can have more fun at the range playing with two different platforms and learning their ideosyncracies.

    Start off slow with the AR and definitely go with Martin's suggestion of building it yourself and saving some money. What you will learn will be priceless.

    • Brett, good answer! Have a frankenstein AR carbine( bcm upper with govt profile chromed barrel) on delton lower tricked out with PSA lpk and Magpul furniture! To me , my AR is my prima donna. My knock around is my saiga IZ132-it took me an hour to “convert” it to truer AK comfiguration and its 922r correct.

      Both are fun to shoot, and both are tough. My build was just $150 cheaper than the colt 6920 at the local gun shop, and it’ll easily run around a colt thanks to the bcm upper, and h2 buffer. My saiga has benched 3in groups on iron sights,so it’ll do as expected. Both are great pride of ownership guns to me!

  3. I will offer myself up as the poster child for building your own AR. Honestly, I have zero mechanical skills so if I can do it, any primate with opposable thumbs can do it.

  4. By the way, I don't know whether to be cheered up or disappointed by the fact that you didn't take this post as another opportunity to post the Hello Kitty AR-15.

  5. I'm saving the Hello Kitty pics for a post on that very topic. 'Cause we don't have nearly enough articles on that gun.

  6. Everyone harps on the AK for being "inaccurate". All the ones I've shot I can hit a 4×4 steel plate at 100 yards with the iron sights just fine. They are surprisingly accurate.

    • The AR fanboys need something to harp on the AK for. The only real differences you'll see in accuracy are further out in the 200 yard+ range.

      • Rob-its not about being a fanboy! Had my saiga rifle( the closest in my opinion to a civilian owned REAL kalashnikov) for years before my AR build.

        At 100 to 200 yrds, the accuracy issue is moot( neither is a sniper system) but the AR is lighter, less recoil( important when accuracy and follow up shots are required), and I have yet to hear about and AK platform( 7. 62 or 5.45) winning a 3 gun competition.

        Also, had a neighbor deployed in fallujah as a marine. He admired the combat versions of the akm and ak 74s he said his platoon would “collect” after a fight, but he would NEVER replace his M16A4 or an M4!

  7. I like the AK myself. It throws a .30 caliber slug that will defeat most intermediate barriers better than 5.56/.223. I started out an AR fan but after a couple of tours in Afganistan I saw just how the AK got it's reputation! And for most civilian encounters or just plinking, the AK will do nicely.
    Also 7.62×39 is STILL cheaper than 5.56/.223! Just my 2cents.

  8. AK 47 is designed to take a life on 100 yards. The caliber 7.62 is able to penetrate a concrete block, and steel core round can go through 0.5 inch steel plate. A full jacket round can go through 1/8 inch steel plate. This is not the case for caliber 5.45. The round stuck inside a concrete block and smashed in front of 1/8 inch steel plate. This caliber is deadly against people dressed in pajamas, but 7.62×39 hollow point makes a lot of damage, same as 5.45 caliber.
    I bought a Yugoslavian AK 47 with parts of Military Zastava, and receiver produced by Century and assembled in USA. Under folded stock is a must. The slant muzzle brake is for amateurs, and worsens the accuracy. I replaced it with a Bulgarian with 4 side windows; the flash can’t obscure the sight. Added a recoil buffer, and replaced the steel wire, with a steel plate at the trigger system. With open sight, front sight at 1, distance 100 yards, I group 20 rounds at 4 inches. You have to know how to support the stock, on your shoulder, how to handle your body by bones, not by muscles and more. A have 26 years experience in army with AK 47 and now, I can use the Yugo one, with the same accuracy. No mater, that is only semi auto, the strength of recoil system is for auto, and if you are fast, can fire up to 8 rounds in a second. Tula or Wolf rounds are cheap, but one in 100 rounds misfire. It is a good idea to load the magazine’s, 3 first rounds to fire, with Winchester 7.62×39. AK 47 is not for haunting. AK 47 is a self-defense weapon, to take a life on 3 to 100 yards in self-defense. I hope never to use it, but I prefer to die with my AK 47 in my hands.

  9. The AR-15 was designed to “reach out” (300yds+) and wound the enemy, causing them to use/risk more soldiers in the retrieval of their wounded comrades. The AK-47 is designed to operate in adverse conditions and put d**ks in the dirt. Fast. Which it does.
    Both guns also come in pistol variants that are perfect for the home or vehicle. Neither is better since both do exactly what they’re designed to do. Go with the AR platform if you’re looking to trick it out, shoot in competition, or put a strangle hold on an foreign government. If you want to win a competition of “You vs Them”, get an AK.

    AR-15 = H3
    AK-47= Humvee

  10. Does anyone know anything about the American made AK company I.O. inc. Out of Florida? I want to know how they compare to eastern block AK’s.

  11. Having built one of each over the past 6 months or so I suggest, build at least one of each! A man can never have too many guns. As for AK accuracy, I can consistently shoot 2″/3 shot groups at 100 yds with my AK’s open sights. Considering what it was designed to do that is impressive or at least it impressed me. If you are going to build only one I’d make it an AR. They’re easier to build (if you have a mill available), more versatile, have more options for customization and .223 is now available at the same cost as 7.62X39. Plus of course you can shoot multiple calibers on the same lower if you choose.

  12. Good insight and well-written. Thanks for your info, helps a lot.

    But………………for fuck’s sake. For an informed author, I’ve rarely seen a worse comparison than “Jesus v. Allah?”
    1. The more accurate comparison would be “Jesus v Mohammad” (though, Jesus was/is God, Yahweh and knew He was)
    2. Any studied person would concur that is like comparing Mother Teresa to Hitler.

    Finally, just a tidbit…this ISIS stuff we see – beheadings of children, etc – IS Islam. True Islamic scholars, ex-Muslims, even ex-terrorists have attested to this fact. Only our government and the radical Islam sympathizer Obama (ole Barry, student of Communism and dissent) and the main stream media (in their pockets) would say otherwise.
    I’ll leave you with a quote of my own that has been passed around the internet of the informed. Spread it.
    “A peaceful Muslim is as a back-slidden Christian.”

    Molon Labe.

  13. I am uncomfortable with a weapon that has killed so many of our troops, Personally I would never own the AK for that reason, I lost 2 good friends and a cousin to people using an AK, I think its un-American to own one but that is my opinion. I own 2 Ar’s a 223 and a 308 In my opinion both are superior to the AK, My 308 is piston driven and flawless with 1/4″ moa the 223 I do clean and take care of and it shoots clover leafs at 100yds all day if I do my part. But I am not a spray and pray shooter I demand accuracy I also would not use FMJ in a battle as our troops are forced to do. A 223 ballistic tip is a lot different than FMJ

    • There’s no polite way to put this so I’m just going to say it, you’re an idiot.

      Here’s the breakdown. 5.56 is the most popular infantry cartridge in the world among governments, and not just NATO countries. That means you need a 5.56 that preferably uses a stanag mag. Number 2 most popular is 7.62×39 using an AK mag, so you need one of those as well. Number 3 is a 7.62×51 NATO, with no clear favorite mag choice. 9mm is the most popular handgun round with governments and civilians worldwide, again with no clear mag choice. So buy one of each in order.

      Why am I saying all of this? Because the best gun is the one you can still get ammo for. Period, The End.

      If you have to get on line next to government troops to defend against invasion, you can use government ammo. If you are defending against government, you can still use government ammo.

  14. I’m a little late in this discussion, but here’s your solution. Get an AR and convert it to piston system. You’ll keep the AR’s accuracy with better reliability. No AR will ever be quite as reliable as the AK, but it will be close enough that you can have faith in its regular operation. It’s not like you’re going to be burying it in sand or anything anyway…are you?? Also easier to clean since carbon won’ build up on the bolt assembly. It’s a little pricey, but if you want the best of both worlds, this is the way to go.

  15. I am an AR 15 fan, I have a colt LE6920 and it is perfect. But I am also building an AK 47 right now and it is almost as badass looking as my AR 15… Just own both and it will settle the issue… Stay safe and always practice and buy lots ammos…. remember in the end, never run out of ammos 🙂 you can have 20 guns but if you don’t have ammos then they are all useless 🙂

  16. Seems like various videos indicate that the reliability of the AR is greatly underrated while the reliability of the AK is greatly overrated. As for accuracy the AR seems to live up to its reputation for accuracy. Buy what you want but I feel the better rifle is the AR. Maybe once I’m rich I will buy both and test the crap out of them for reliability and accuracy although I already have an idea how such tests would go.

  17. If you live in the United States, you should own a AR15/M4.
    No matter what, a person will always be able to get ahold of 5.56 ammo and parts.
    AR15/M4s are very dependable rifles, just keep them as clean as you can and keep them well lubed.
    When i say clean, i dont mean spotless, just a quick wipe down will do. Then some lube.
    Right now ARs cost wise are at a historical low. One can buy a Ruger or S&W M4 for as little as $600.
    If you have been on the fence about getting one, its really time you ‘pull the trigger’ as prices have been creeping upwards.
    I highly suggest a person get a quality optic for the AR/M4. Even though these rifles are accurate, a quality red dot for example will make the rifle that much better.

    If you can, i also suggest a person owns a AK. But buyer beware and chose wisely.
    Thanks to trade restrictions, most AKs modern day are imported as demilled parts kit guns that are reassembled here Stateside.
    To make them legal, they are reassembled using com-block parts and made in USA parts.
    Another problem with modern day AKs here in the States is canted sites. Make sure when buying a AK that the sights are straight.
    Now there are some AK rifles that get imported almost complete. They need to be made 922R legal by adding some US made parts.
    The WASR and Yugo N-PAP are two such rifles. Both rifles as of 1-1-2016 can be had for about $600.
    I suggest the WASR as there are more aftermarket parts out there for it.
    Before buying a AK , do youre research!!!
    Because AKs are not the most accurate platform, quality optics are a must.
    AKs are not the infallible rifles that some people think they are.
    They are also prone to jamming and such.

    When it comes to AK vs AR and which is better, the answer is neither.
    Get to know both platforms and their strengths and weaknesses.

  18. A huge factor for me in choosing the AR over the AK is that excellent .22lr conversion kits are readily and affordably available to quickly (and PROPERLY) convert your piece into a fun little .22lr plinker. Not so with the .30 caliber AK. When I shoot my AR carbine with the conversion kit installed I don’t feel like I’m shooting a converted gun at all; I feel like I’m shooting the best-built, coolest .22 in the world. It works perfectly and is dead accurate. Also, the light weight and compact nature of the AR (especially in carbine form) make for a perfectly believable .22lr gun).

  19. Most modern AR’s are more reliable than people think, and most modern AK’s are more accurate than people think.

    My centurion 39 AK47 shoots 3 inch goups at 100 yards with iron sights and junk ammo. It’s also made in the USA.

    My two cents would be if you want an ultra customized bench gun that looks cool, buy an AR. If you want a gun to fuck shit up, buy an AK. It’s the end all bad guy gun, and when it comes to killing it’s as reliable as the sun.

  20. Brad has a social duty to help defend the republic and minorities as an armed member of the unorganized militia, and in so doing help deter tyranny and crimes against humanity. Such people should own the same type of rifle commonly used by the soldiers in their nation. In the US this would mean a civilian legal version of the M4 that is the standard issue rife of the US Army. You can find out more about the militia via the MIS website (www.militia.info).

    This is not to say that the AK is not a better gun in some ways, but that is irrelevant. A truck bomb will cause more damage to a fortified structure than an M4, but that does not mean you should not own an M4. You could also buy an AK, but do you want to have two different weapon systems with different ammunition, magazines and parts? If things go pear shaped will you be able to get ammo, mags and spare parts for an AK from military and police arsenals?

    It should be a quality rifle, not something second-rate rifle like the Ruger AR-556 that does not have a chrome lined chamber (which aids extraction reliability in adverse conditions). The only low cost M4 type rifle I’d recommend is the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 which is about half the price of the most expensive M4 clones (though I’d prefer a Colt or BCM). Some shorten the 16” barrels they use to 14.5” and permanently fit an A2X flash hider to make it a bit shorter.

    Add a BCM Tri Rail Mount so you can fit a tactical light or laser, get a red dot sight like the Aimpoint PRO, and buy Magpul magazines. As for a pistol, it must be chambered for the 9mm round, but the M9 and M11 are too big and heavy. The Gen3 Glock 19 was recently adopted by the US Navy SEALs as it is simple, compact, light, reliable and durable. It is big enough to be used as a service pistol but small and light enough to be used for CCW. The perfect 9mm.

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