Any discussion over which rifle you should keep ready for home defense inevitably boils down to a comparison between the AK-47 vs AR-15.
These rifles are popular for good reasons. Pick either one to place at your bedside and you’ll be far better prepared for the worst than if you had neither. That said, let’s first go into the histories behind these two trusted rifles.
Inside the AK-47
From Russia, With Love
The “AK” in AK-47 stands for “Avtomat Kalashnikova,” a dead giveaway as to its country of origin.
Mikhail Kalashnikov developed the automatic rifle in the late 1940s. (He also designed the AK-74, which isn’t to be confused with its predecessor.) Kalashnikov conceived the AK-47 while recovering from a wound he received at the Battle of Bryansk during WWII, Kalashnikov attributed his wound in part to the fact that Russian soldiers not only had to share weapons between them, but didn’t even have automatics.
His solution combined what he identified to be the best features of America’s M1 carbine and Germany’s StG 44. His creation proved exceptionally reliable as well as economical to mass produce. The AK-47 is now the most produced firearm in history, with as many as 150 million having existed at some point. This fact alone is truly a testament to Kalashnikov’s success.
Inside the AR-15
America’s Rifle is Born in the USA
The “AR” in AR-15 stands for “ArmaLite rifle,” in spite of what some media might lead you to believe. The rifle owes its origin to the aftermath of WWII, when the U.S. military sought a single weapon to replace the M1 Garand, Thompson submachine gun, and other firearms.
ArmaLite submitted several AR-10 prototypes designed by Eugene Stoner to the military for consideration in 1956, and although the design was innovative and lightweight at 6.85 pounds, the military opted instead in favor of Fabrique Nationale’s T48 (now known as the FAL) chambered in 7.62×51. However, the military learned that the M14 was inferior in multiple aspects to the AK-47 during the Vietnam War, so they soon approved a scaled-down version of the AR-10 for service called the AR-15. Because the AR-15 was chambered for 5.56×45, a smaller cartridge than 7.62×51, soldiers could carry three times more ammunition for it. ArmaLite sold the rights to the AR-15 to Colt in 1959, which manufactures it to this day. Countless other manufacturers offer their own AR-15 style rifles as well.
AR-47 vs AR-15 Availability
To be certain, while both the AK-47 and AR-15 were designed as automatic weapons, they have since been redesigned as semi-automatic weapons for sale to the civilian market. Walk into a gun store and buy either, and you won’t have to worry about ATF throwing smoke grenades through your windows that night. (Some states do restrict the sale of certain types of semi-automatic firearms, though.) That said, while the two types of rifles serve the same purpose, which is rapidly perforating things, they are fairly different from one another.
The biggest difference between the two rifles is their ammunition. The AK-47 fires 7.62×39 ammunition, while the classic AR-15 is chambered for 5.56 (and/or 223 Remington). Generally, the 7.62 fires a 123 grain projectile at 2,350 feet per second. A typical 5.56×45 fires a 55 grain projectile at 3,000 feet per second.
Needless to say, you would not want either caliber to hit you. Without getting too bogged down by physics, you can confidently declare the 5.56 is superior in terms of its faster muzzle velocity and flatter trajectory.
The 7.62’s heavier bullet has got greater frontal surface area, however. Thus, its poised inflict more damage by creating a wider wound channel. This effect may be even more exaggerated if you are firing a bullet that expands during penetration. (Do note, the extremely modifiable AR-15 may be chambered to fire a great variety of calibers as well. Consider the 5.56×45 simply its default setting.)
The gas-operated AK-47 and the direct impingement AR-15 do perform significantly differently from one another. When you outfit both rifles with 16” barrels, the AK-47 is less accurate. Expect two to five minutes of accuracy with most rigs, as opposed to the AR-15’s one to three.
The AK-47’s effective range is shorter than the AR-15’s, although this will likely not impact your ability to defend yourself. The AK-47 is effective at a range of over 400 yards when fired in a semi-automatic setting, a far greater distance than your assailant is likely to engage you over. In general the AK-47 also generates more recoil, which may impact your ability to accurately direct rapid fire.
If your sole criterion for choosing your self-defense rifle is post-apocalyptic performance, the AK-47 beats the AR-15 hands down. At least in terms of reputation.
The AK-47 is a legendarily rugged weapon. Choke it full of sand, dirt, and mud and you’ll likely not even witness a hiccup. The AR-15 is by no means a pantywaist, but it does typically require more maintenance than the Russian beast if it’s to work reliably.
AK-47 vs AR-15: Cost To Shoot
The AK-47 is less expensive to own and to shoot. Its ammunition is nearly always less expensive. You can find a ton of bulk steel cased rounds are available for it, which the AK-47 gobbles up with gusto. You can buy a reliable AK-47 for about $500. An AR-15 is apt to set you back more when you consider “window dressings.”
Outside of magazines, scope mounts, and possibly a bayonet, an AK-47 is not poised to accept many modifications or add-ons. That’s very different from the highly customizable AR-15. What you see is what you get, but the AK-47 is an aesthetically pleasing rifle, especially with walnut furniture.
The AR-15, on the other hand, was seemingly invented to be accessorized. Ever hear the expression “This is my grandfather’s axe: My father replaced the handle, and I replaced the head?”
It’s so easy for even a layman to replace an AR-15’s barrel, furniture, and other parts, and to affix lights, scopes, lasers, and other accoutrements to it that the finished product may not even vaguely resemble the original. It can be a rabbit hole that eventually makes an AR-15 worth substantially more than any AK-47. Unless of course you own a gold plated AK, which are typically reserved for warlords in action movies.
So, What’s Right for You?
Take all of this information into account while you are deciding which rifle you should invest in. But, remember, your preference shouldn’t become rock solid until you have fired both the AK-47 and the AR-15.
Here is the best news: If you are in America, you are right where you want to be if you desire access to several different firearms. Go to a range that rents both the AK-47 and the AR-15. Try them out, or tag a gun nut buddy of yours — he’ll be more than happy to show you those pieces of his collection in action.
If you are not in America, then please accept our condolences.