LAS VEGAS -- A Pennsylvania firm plans to begin manufacturing the AK-47 Kalashnikov in the U.S. this spring to skirt sanctions that ban imports of the iconic Russian rifle, an official said.
RWC Group LLC, based in Tullytown, Pennsylvania, the official U.S. importer of Kalashnikov, displayed a "Kalashnikov USA" booth at this year's SHOT Show, the nation's largest gun show, which draws some 60,000 attendees to a sprawling conference center here. The exhibit featured the slogans, "Russian heritage" and "Made in USA."
"We have been non-stop here since we opened Tuesday morning," said Jim Kelly, production manager at RWC's Kalashnikov USA, referring to foot traffic at the exhibit. "The people seem to be pleased that it is going to be a U.S.-made product."
"I don't think the interest in the AK will ever go away -- it's such a universal weapon," he added. "Regardless of sanctions, it's going [everywhere]. And that is one thing that basically prompted us to make it here."
Because of economic sanctions imposed on Russia last summer following the country's military involvement in the Ukraine, RWC is prevented from importing more Kalashnikovs. So the firm will build the AK-style weapons and other firearms here instead, according to CEO Thomas McCrossin. Legally, it can do so -- provided there is no communication with the Russian company, Kalashnikov Concern, he said.
"In the second quarter of this year, we are going to start manufacturing here in the U.S.," McCrossin told CNN. "What I'm manufacturing are our own AK-47s and shotguns under the Kalashnikov brand."
The guns on display at the event bore the inscription "Tullytown, Pennsylvania," on the barrel. McCrossin, who wasn't immediately available for an interview, said the company is scouting locations for a new manufacturing plant.
The AK-47 is one of the most popular rifles in the world. Known as Kalashnikov after its Soviet designer, it dates to World War II and is known for being reliable and easy to maintain. Those same characteristics have also made it one of the most copied designs, with knockoffs available in the U.S. and other countries around the globe.
Stateside demand for Kalashnikovs reportedly surged over the past year after a U.S.-led coalition targeted Russian officials and companies for economic sanctions in response to Russia's invasion and subsequent annexation of the Ukraine's Crimea region. The trend was compounded by the fact that both the firearms and the ammunition they shoot are relatively cheap.
Gun-makers in the U.S. and abroad have responded to the changes in the market with an assortment of rifles that include AK-style features.
Israel Weapon Industries, known as IWI, plans to release an updated version of its Galil rifle, which accepts any standard AK-47 magazine to shoot 7.62mm X 39mm ammunition, in the U.S. this spring.
CMMG Inc., the Fayette, Missouri-based arms maker, has blended features of the U.S. AR-15-style rifle and the Russian AK-47-style rifle in a new product called the Mk-47 "Mutant." The rifle was spawned "from two of the world's greatest platforms," and engineered for AR-15 accuracy and AK-47 reliability, according to promotional materials.
AP-Rhino, a gun-maker in St. Louis, introduced the MM-47, another AR-platform rifle that shoots 7.62mm X 39mm rounds, according to Jeremy Maddox, the company's chief executive officer.
"There are a lot of guys out there who are looking to do a lot of shooting very economically," he said. "The surplus [ammo] is readily available, really cheap. You can go through a whole lot of it out on the range in one day or stockpile it for whatever reason," he added. "Ammo costs are a big driving factor for these. Also, there's a lot of interest in the AK-platform rifle."
New products for the AK market even extend to accessories such as slings.
Blue Force Gear, based in Pooler, Georgia, showed off a new sling designed for AK-style rifles, alongside its lineup of packs and belt pouches. As Stephen Hilliard, director of product development at the company, said, "After years of under-servicing the AK market, we finally brought to market the one AK sling that will rule them all."
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