Osama's Gun

How to not build bin Ladens AK-47 without even trying

But we were. We browsed through three buildings and tables upon tables of deadly things that weren't the right deadly things. I found a handsome wooden stock, $40, but it was a thumbhole stock; I found barrels and front grips, but they were for an AR-15. I even found a genuine World War II army-issue .45 automatic, but it was $2,400 and, obviously, I didn't need it. Then, when we all but ready to leave, I saw the Asian man and his wife—selling, finally, an AK-47 parts kit for just $175. It was all there—pistol grip, shortened barrel—and it was all illegal, but it was so tempting. For under $200, I'd have all the parts I needed—shiny black metal barrel, handsomely polished wooden grips—and it'd be illegal. But I'd have it. As we discussed this, I saw a guy behind the next table over—ordinary guy, Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap, neat beard—listening. He said he thought he had what we wanted, and he brought it up from under the table; being legal, it wasn't a big draw. It was $400 for everything—long barrel, fixed plastic stock and front grip, trigger assembly, piston and spring, bolt cover, five-round plastic clip—and we said we'd take it. The man, who said his name was Jim, even said he'd help us rivet it together if we bought the rivets, which I thought was suspicious. Gun shows are supposedly crawling with ATF agent spies, so you don't do anything illegal—and so that if you do, they know about it—but Eddie said he thought the guy looked okay so we exchanged numbers and I said I'd call him when I was ready. All I needed now was a $20 rivet kit, which was not as easy to find as it sounded.

*   *   *

Guns do violent things: they kill. And killing is itself a violent act for a gun; each shot is a miniature explosion which must be contained in the firing chamber and barrel of the gun—a very small, confined area. For this reason, for containment, the gun must be riveted together; were it all merely bolted together like a bicycle, it would fly apart after just a few shots. And it must be riveted with rivets specifically designed for a gun—to withstand extremes of temperature and stress for long periods of time—forever, perhaps. I was told—again, by one of my friends—that a company called K-VAR in Las Vegas had those kinds of rivets, which was true up to a point. The man who answered the phone at K-VAR with a Middle Eastern accent said yes they did sell an AK-47 rivet kit but that it was out of stock indefinitely. Back to the Internet; back to the assorted gun enthusiast bulletin boards I'd found where responsible AK-47 owners warned against having a guy you'd just met rivet up an AK-47 you'd pieced together yourself. I swallowed the lump in my throat and kept looking for the gun store I knew was out there. And in less than a day, I found it, in Florida—of course! The store not only had my rivet kit, it had it in stock, and when I left the man a message on his voicemail, he called me right back. I bought the kit over the phone with a credit card and had it sent next-day air. I felt like a big shot.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. Photo by Russ Roca
Seemed like a good idea at the time. Photo by Russ Roca

Then it arrived, and I felt, again, like a small shot. Were these tiny pieces of metal really going to transform the hundred or so other pieces of metal and plastic into a working rifle? Apparently.

Now I finally had all my parts, I drove back up to Gunrunners for some encouraging free legal advice. Eddie was supposed to come with, but he flaked. It was the Friday before Labor Day, and I found a hand-lettered cardboard sign in the window: "Gone Done Fishin." The store would be closed for the next four days and I'd just made a 30-mile drive for nothing.

Then, driving home south on the 605 with all the parts for an AK-47 in my filthy Honda, I ran right into a nest of cops. Traffic stopped dead at Peck Road and I spent 30 minutes covering the half-dozen miles to Whittier Boulevard, where I started seeing helicopters and called home to my wife, to have her check the news for me. The northbound side of the freeway looked closed, but my side was jammed with cars and trucks, and I kept seeing black-and-whites whiz by on the shoulder, sirens screaming. One was a canine unit. My wife turned up the TV, and I heard one of the pilots above me explaining that sheriff's deputies were looking for two men who'd shot at them, then fled. They'd already caught one guy, but were still looking for the other, and the handgun they used. Another 10 minutes and I was back in fifth gear, doing 80 with a semiautomatic rifle in my trunk. I finally sped past them a few feet away: police cars and SUVS, men with dogs, helicopters, all looking for a gun. They just weren't looking for my gun. I should have been refreshed; I felt only slightly less uneasy.

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