Why Kalashnikov made a Streaming-Ready Rifle

Harmless replicas of weapons used in movies and video games are a constant presence in the world of cosplayers and science fiction fans. Never before, however, has a real firearm been ‘designed’ as a gadget for social network users. It looks like a toy, but it really kills by Andrea Monti – Originally published in Italian by Strategikon – Italian Tech

Recently, the Russian arms factory producing the iconic AK-47s, JSC Kalashnikov Concern, released two new pump-action shotguns in 12/76 calibre. The news should not be of particular interest to those unfamiliar with the world of firearms, except that these are two ‘objects’ that are clearly intended for Generation Z and the world of social networking. The two ‘toys’ have a design reminiscent of a video game or science fiction movie, and above all, they incorporate a computer that records data on the number and frequency of fire and a webcam capable of transmitting subjective streaming of the shooter’s movements. They also interact with a smartphone.

In themselves, these functionalities are not new. In the military, police and sporting sectors, body cams are widely used to record operators’ actions, and social networks are overflowing with videos in which enthusiasts and fanatics show off their weapons and the way they use it. Similarly, the aggressive look of specific platforms such as M4-type rifles – which are also available on the civilian market in Italy – has led some countries like Canada or New Zealand to ban them.

Therefore, the difference between the past and the present is not so much in the possibility of integrating ‘badass’ looking weapons for individual use, computers and streaming, as in the reason for creating the two new rifles.

As with any mechanical object, the aesthetic component has undoubtedly played an essential role in designing blades and firearms. Many museums contain sections dedicated to the gunsmithing traditions of countries, such as Italy, that have distinguished themselves for their ability to combine aesthetics and functionality even in objects intended for killing. For a long time, however, a weapon was ‘only’ a weapon, i.e. an object to be used to kill (in war, to defend oneself, to hunt) or to compete. Gradually, however, the world of entertainment has iconicised the role of offensive tools, making them an essential element of the attractiveness of a movie or video game. It was only a matter of time, then, for the spillover to happen: no longer real weapons becoming a cinema or digital gadgets, but gadgets inspired by fantasies and designed to be actual weapons to be used by those who just want to ‘play’.

When confronted with such objects, the first reaction is to consider them the perfect tool for streaming massacres, a ‘format’ to which we have already been dramatically exposed so many times. However, this would be a simplistic explanation because history shows that it is not the tool itself that provokes madness or facilitates terrorist actions.

Instead, we should ask ourselves why the market believes there is room for a particular type of product based on the gamification of the use of firearms and the consequent desensitisation to violence. These are, in fact, the necessary preconditions for making it socially acceptable to sport the latest gadget that shoots magnum bullets for hunting wild boar with the latest smartphone.

At the moment, these shotguns are not imported into Italy, but, as mentioned, this is an irrelevant circumstance because they are not the problem, and it will not be the (relative) difficulty of attaching a camera to a weapon that will stop criminal exhibitionism.

Instead, the marketing choice of Kalashnikov suggests a noticeable change in the relationship of the new generations with the anesthetisation of violence. For the moment, there is no way of knowing whether such a market has or is about to have ‘numbers’ that make these commercial choices sustainable. Indeed, as in any business activity, at the end of the year accounts must be in black, and the contraction of a niche of customers must be matched by the search for new categories of them.

Generally speaking, the commercial need —which is not in itself illegal— to expand the firearms market requires careful evaluations by those who have to make public policy choices, not only and not so much from the point of view of arms regulation, but also from that of (cinema) entertainment, which has recently benefited from greater flexibility in controlling the content it conveys.

On the one hand, the arms dossier is very complex and does not lend itself to radical simplifications under the banner of ‘total disarmament’ or, on the contrary, the alleged right to own entire arsenals instead of the number of weapons needed for actual use.

On the other hand, it is difficult to prove with certainty that there is a link between bloodshed and continuous exposure to violence and its iconicisation in films and video games. However, for some time now, this thesis has begun to crack. Therefore, it would be appropriate to understand whether, in the face of apparent variations in individual value systems, it is still tenable that there is no connection between reality and fiction.

At least from a commercial point of view, Kalashnikov has already answered.

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