President Barack Obama, speaking to the National Urban League on Wednesday evening, sounded a call for gun control–and revealed his apparent ignorance about the U.S. military in the process. Obama told the audience that “AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.” However, the U.S. military does not generally use the AK-47, a weapon originally developed in the Soviet Union that was subsequently adopted by many other communist states. The AK-47 also became the weapon of choice for guerilla armies and terrorist groups.
Today, AK-47s are typically to be found among enemy forces that U.S. troops encounter on the battlefield. Osama bin Laden was often filmed or photographed near his AK-47 rifle–and was killed by U.S. Navy Seals when he reached for it. (Update: Yes, bin Laden preferred a newer, updated version of the weapon, the AK-74.) The former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also released video footage of himself taking target practice with an AK-47. (Update: Other videos featured the AK-47; the target practice was with a recovered American M249 rifle.) Taliban forces in Afghanistan use the AK-47 in attacks on NATO forces. There are some allied forces that also use the AK-47, and the CIA once funneled AK-47s to “friendly” militias. Occasionally, members of specialized units may use the AK-47 in the field. Practically, however, as well as symbolically, the AK-47 is a weapon not typically associated with American soldiers.