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Miles Manchester's aim was a little low.  But all ten rounds from his WASR-10 would have struck a human body. Photo: David Sommerstein.
Miles Manchester's aim was a little low. But all ten rounds from his WASR-10 would have struck a human body. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Should an AK-47 be legal? Listen for yourself

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Last summer, months before the horrible shootings in Newtown, Conn. that took place in December, 2012, Miles Manchester of Potsdam, NY, was browsing the gun listings in the local classifieds. And he saw this ad. "AK-47. Two 30 round clips. 800 rounds of ammunition. And a phone number," recalls Manchester. "And I thought, can I do this?"

Manchester bought a semi-automatic assault rifle second hand, with no background check required.

Today, under New York's new gun laws, buying that weapon is illegal. But it was perfectly legal then.

Manchester bought it, not for hunting or shooting practice, but to persuade people that it shouldn't be legal.

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The WASR-10 Miles Manchester bought second hand for $800. Photo: David Sommerstein.

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David Sommerstein
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A gun learning center

Miles Manchester set up his living room like a gun learning center, just for my visit. He's got a Winchester rifle, a semi-automatic Remington rifle, and a muzzleloader leaning against the walls. All three shoot no more than five bullets before you have to reload.

When you hear about the horrific shootings in Mexico? That's the gun!
Sitting across the room, with a white sheet draped behind it like a museum installation, is an ammo box overflowing with bullets. Balanced on top is a WASR-10, a Romanian version of an AK-47. With two of its 30-round clips, Manchester estimates he could fire off 60 rounds in less than 90 seconds. That, he believes, is too many bullets, too fast.

Manchester is 63, a retired state employee and a casual hunter. He was given his first gun at the age of 12. He supports gun rights.

But when Manchester saw the local ad for this gun, a relative of the iconic Kalashnikov, he remembered an article he had read by the Center for Public Integrity. It said that rifle is the most popular one among Mexican drug cartels. He points at the gun and exclaims, "when you hear about the horrific shootings in Mexico? That's the gun!"

"Rapid fire"

Manchester says the person he bought it from acquired it at a gun show, had a background check, and was a nice, responsible guy.

But he bought it for $800 to make a point. It's considered semi-automatic because it's not rapid fire. You have to pull the trigger each time you shoot a bullet. But he thinks "semi-automatic" is misleading.

He called me to do a demonstration and let listeners decide if they think it should be banned or not.

So we trudge outside into the snow. Manchester tapes together two 30 round magazines with duct tape – a common practice he says, so you just have to flip the magazine to reload. He sets up 500 feet from the nearest residence, and about 50 feet from a target on a cardboard box.

We time him shooting 10 bullets, then reloading the second magazine. It takes fourteen seconds to shoot ten rounds and two seconds to reload. In other words, Manchester, an amateur gunman, could have shot 60 rounds, almost without stop, in a minute and a half.

Manchester says the argument of whether this gun is "rapid fire" enough to be banned is clear: yes.

But here's the thing. Manchester is much less certain about the broad sweep of New York's new gun laws. "Initially, I began doing this because people need to be aware that these kinds of weapons are out there and they're available with no tracking and no background checks," says Manchester. "Now the [new New York state] legislation's moved so quickly, it's like I'm sort of on the other side that I see parts of this legislation that I think have gone too far."

Manchester is against the ammunition tracking that gun shops say will put them out of business, for example.

An experiment

Military-style assault rifles like this one, and the number of rounds in their clips, have become the focal point of the national debate over gun control. Many gun rights supporters say a ban will do little to stop violence. They say it's the person who has to be stopped, not the gun.

Miles Manchester bought this gun as an experiment. But he says anybody could have – a disgruntled lover, a mentally ill person on the edge, a criminal.

There are millions of semi-automatic and automatic rifles in private hands in the U.S. After buying and shooting one of them himself, he says that's absurd.

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