How the AK-47 Came to Rule the Streets

I got my first gun when I was 12. It was a .32 automatic, a small pistol no bigger than the palm of your hand. This guy would come around the neighborhood every three weeks with a backpack full of pistols and sell them for $25 each.

Eventually he stopped coming around and we had to get our guns elsewhere, which wasn't too hard growing up in the Fillmore and the Tenderloin, inner-city neighborhoods. My first "big" gun was a .357 Magnum, a revolver close to 12 inches long that sounds like thunder when it's fired. My mom found it and took it away.

Between the ages of 12 and 18, I came across so many pistols that it was second nature to have one on me. One day when I was about 14, a police sergeant saw me drinking a beer on the street. He's patting me down, and through the whole thing I'm thinking, "What if he finds the pistol?" I had a .45 caliber under my waistband in the small of my back. He missed it.

After that, I stopped holding guns for a while. But later that year something happened that made me start holding full time.

It was nighttime, and almost all the hommiez was outside kickin' it on the block. An old man came out of the building, stopped and posted up against the wall, right in the middle of us all. It was night but he was wearing black sunglasses and some kind of army outfit.

The next thing I know he pulls out what looked like a 9mm Beretta and opens fire. I was stuck for a few seconds watching this dude shoot at my hommiez. Then I reached into the small of my back for my gun -- and it wasn't there.

"Damn, I'm dead." I thought.

The shooter finished unloading one clip, ejected it, came out with another clip, loaded it, cocked a round into the chamber and looked at me and two other guys still sitting there. We got up to run, but one of the guys was hit in the lower back and fell down. The guy next to me stopped to help him and got shot in the leg. I stopped to check on him but he just screamed, "run lil' nigga, get outta here." I ran and hid in a nearby doorway.

After that incident, I stayed strapped.

Of all the guns I've had over the years, my favorite was a sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip. I kept the barrel of it in my pants pocket. I'd put the handle under my armpit, which made me walk with a gangsterish limp. It was either walk with my shoulder hunched up 10 inches higher than the rest of my body or walk like a gangsta. I walked like a gangsta.

In the mid-'80s the gun of choice on the streets was the Uzi 9mm, a small submachine gun able to hold 30 to 60 rounds. With a longer clip the gun tended to jam. In a shooting battle that could mean death, so people soon switched to the Glock 9mm and the .45 caliber.

Bulletproof vests became a hot commodity to defend against these small handheld pistols, until some genius invented hollow-point bullets. Police upgraded their vests, but then someone laced the hollow points with Teflon and silicone, creating bullets known as "Cop Killers."

The latest weapon of choice on the streets, the one getting all the attention today, is the Russian Kalashnikov, or AK-47 -- a large assault rifle capable of holding 100 rounds in one clip. On the streets it's called a street-sweeper, because anything it hits gets swept away. Cars and trucks are turned into Swiss cheese -- imagine what this weapon does to human beings.

Why is this the gun of choice? Simple. Let's say you have a shotgun, or a snub-nose .38, or a Glock 9mm. My AK is a rapid-fire, handheld cannon. When you run out of bullets, I'm just getting started. You can't hide. I'm the equivalent of seven well-armed hunters; you're a sitting duck. You've got a pellet gun; I've got lightning bolts and thunder.

I've never shot an AK-47, but I have had, and shot, a Mac 90, which is a very close knock-off. I think that both guns aren't good weapons to carry around unless you're about to go to war against a large group of people.

Some people think that banning assault rifles will somehow stop them from circulating in "our" society. But even with the current ban, you can still buy an AK-47 on the streets. The same is true for almost any gun, big or small.

Nino Brown, whose name has been changed, writes for YO! Youth Outlook, a magazine by and for Bay Area youths, and a PNS project.

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