Guns 'n ammo

Crow in flight Back to opinions

I like Discovery Channel and I especially like programmes about the cold war. There is something in the quality of the film of that period which I find very atmospheric. The stock footage reminds me of the Russian missiles I saw paraded on the TV, back when that stock footage was breaking news. I had no idea then that I was looking at cheap copies of western technology. As a rule the Russians did not innovate in hi-tech — but they copied, simplified, and mass-produced.

Two programmes about guns were on the TV the other day. The first was a historical account of the AK47 assult rifle — the famous ‘Kalashnikov’, named after the Russian inventor of the design. Kalashnikov did not invent the assault rifle but he simplified the concept to a design that could be mass-produced. His grim success is undisputed: In Africa you can buy one for 30 dollars; around 50 to 100 million have been produced. It is not only the Russians who can do this: the USA developed the Stinger missile as an idiot-proof helicopter-buster and gave them out like sweets in Afghanistan. Simplicity can be very effective, especially once the innovative technical problems have been mastered.

Then I saw a programme in the series ‘Future Weapons’ about a new American sniper rifle accurate to two and a half miles. The technical problem was finding the optimal trade-off between a large heavy bullet (which can plough through more air) and a small light bullet (which encounters less air resistance) — as well as careful design of the bullet’s shape, and a special slow-burning gunpowder which accellerates the bullet without bursting the gun-barrel. Very elegant. It was worth watching.

I’d like to believe that a society in which people are free to choose what’s best for themselves — a free society — is likely to profit most from the talent of its citizens. We should be proud of the freedoms we enjoy and we should be proud of our achievements. We should even be proud of that gun.

But everybody can benefit from cheap, simplified copies. The new sniper rifle is just a gun; its blueprints will not stay secret. Quite soon, it will be the children of its designers who will fear for their lives at two and a half miles.

There can be no definitive answer to the following question, but it is a simple one we should bear in mind: if we go to the effort of inventing a weapon, should it not be <i>so</i> complicated and expensive that no-one can copy it, without first developing a society as creative and complex as our own?