Where Do AK-47s Come From? Florida, Thanks to Russia Sanctions

A week and a half after a gunman took the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a group of protesters assembled in a city minutes away. Carrying signs and a megaphone, they stood outside the headquarters of Kalashnikov USA, a company that manufactures versions of the AK-47 assault rifle—a popular firearm, though not the same one the Parkland shooter used. One woman held a sign saying, "Nyet, not here," with a hammer and sickle. And, if not for the American sanctions against Russia, the facility would not even be there.

"AK-47s are weapons of war, and it's being manufactured in our own backyard," said Mitchell Stollberg, the chairman of the Broward County chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, and the organizer of the February 25 rally. "Then to find out that it was a Russian company makes it even worse."

Kalashnikov USA started as an importer of firearms from Kalashnikov Concern, a Russian company. That changed after former President Barack Obama's administration imposed sanctions on certain Russian companies in 2014, because of the country's interference in Ukraine. The list included Kalashnikov Concern. In a statement at the time, the Russian company said the sanctions "go against the interest of American consumers."

Kalashnikov Concern's history dates back to an armory established under Russian emperor Alexander I in the early 19th century. Now named after Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian lieutenant general who developed the AK-47, the company describes itself as the largest Russian manufacturer of assault and sniper rifles, guided artillery projectiles and precision weapons. It also makes civilian hunting shotguns and sporting rifles, and says it produces 95 percent of small arms in Russia. Fifty-one percent of the company is state-owned, and private investors own the rest.

Activists protest in front of Kalashnikov USA, a gun manufacturer that makes an AK-47 rifle, on February 25 in Pompano Beach, Florida. The protesters are rallying for gun reform following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. Joe Raedle/Getty

After the sanctions, Kalashnikov USA began manufacturing its own weapons, including a version of the AK-47. "We started with the proven AK-47 design, utilizing the Russian Heritage of the long stroke, gas piston, rotating bolt design," the company says on its website. "To this legendary firearm, we added the American Innovation."

Kalashnikov USA decided to relocate from Pennsylvania to Florida in 2015, with a 40,000-square-foot facility, according to Pompano Beach city records. A spokesperson once told Florida's Sun Sentinel that the company expected to sell primarily to overseas buyers, and, in May 2017, the manufacturer announced it had started sending out shipments.

But less than a year later, Kalashnikov USA is now under scrutiny for not only producing and selling AK-47s but also doing that so close to where the Parkland shooting occurred, even if the proximity is a coincidence. (The manufacturer does not produce the AR-15, the weapon used in Parkland.)

The February 14 shooting has renewed calls for gun control. In a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, President Donald Trump expressed interest in firearms legislation. But in a tweet the next day, he seemed to suggest otherwise, writing, "Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!" Trump has spoken at at least two NRA conventions, and the association supported his 2016 presidential campaign.

Representatives for Kalashnikov USA did not respond to requests for comment.