Chivers concludes that the durability of the AK-47 will guarantee its preeminence for years to come. Suicide bombers and homemade explosives may get more attention in the media, but the AK-47 continues to kill more people, he argues. I would agree, having seen the farcical “demobilization” of insurgents in southern Africa. At the end of so many decades of conflict, millions of weapons remained in circulation or ended up in bazaars in nearby countries. U.N. peacekeepers will never succeed in decommissioning them all. They are too sturdy and commonplace.

And what of the weapon’s nominal creator? In recent years, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov has lamented the bloody legacy of the creation that carries his name. But when he turned ninety last November, he seemed at peace with the past, if one is to believe the government newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazetta. “I feel a happy man,” Kalashnikov reportedly said. “As with any person, I have things to regret. . . . But I can say one thing: I would not live my life again differently if I had the chance.”

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Judith Matloff is a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is a veteran foreign correspondent, who teaches a course on conflict reporting at Columbia, and is the author of Fragments of a Forgotten War and Home Girl.