Chinese AKs, Part 5: Jim Fuller about the history of China AK imports into the USA

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

Last year, I published a series of articles about the history of Chinese AK rifles, Part 1 was about the construction of the factories and the Russian assistance, Part 2 was about the proliferation of Type56, Part 3 was dedicated to post-Cold War changes in Chinese firearms manufacturing and in Part 4 I wrote абоут modern variants of Chinese AKs. However, I ignored one important part of China AK history – importation to the USA. And who knows it better than Jim Fuller, one of the most well-known veterans of the industry who contributed to the popularity of the AK platform in the US.

Several years ago Jim Fuller left Vegas, where he previously founded Rifle Dynamics, and settled in Scottsdale Arizona, where he opened a new company called Fuller Phoenix. The company specializes in custom AK builds, you can check out some of their work on their Instagram.

I met with Jim several years ago, we talked about AKs, and from the notes of that conversation, I put together this interview.

Vlad: How did your fascination with AKs start?

Jim: I’ve seen videos of it in Vietnam and this and that, but I was too young for Vietnam. I didn’t go. So, in the 80s on a construction project overseas was where I first saw one.

I’ve never seen one before. I didn’t know anything about them. And the damn thing worked, and that impressed me. When I got back, in the early eighties, they started importing the Chinese and the Hungarian guns here.

And the Chinese guns were just cheap. In those days, it was $75 a piece if you bought a pallet of AKs from China. And shops retailed them for like $150.

I was an electrician most of my life, but I always worked part-time in the gun industry somewhere, just for discounts and stuff, to support my gun habit basically.

Jim Fuller showing some AK builds to the author in Vegas, January 2018

Vlad: A few years ago I got my hands on contracts of the Chinese manufacturers when they were selling a batch of China AK rifles to a Middle Eastern country. It was a sizable order and the unit price was $93. Later on, the Chinese sent a quote for 100 guns, Type 56-2, unit price was $120. And the quality is much worse than those old ones.

Jim: I’ve got an old type 56s too. It’s actually a pretty nice gun.

Vlad: I think that they supplied the best guns to the US because I had so many China AK rifles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Usually, when Americans experience Chinese AKs outside of the US, they’d say it’s Chinese crap.

But if they had an opportunity to shoot Chinese AKs imported to the US, they often would say it’s the best AK ever. So I think the quality from various factories over the years was different.

Author and Jim Fuller talk about China AK rifles

Jim: So it’s a good thing they were cheap because I broke a lot of them. It’s like, okay. What makes this work? Take it apart. Start working on it. And it’s like, oh, I broke that one. Okay. we’ll get another one.

When I first got a hold of an AK, the first thing I realized with the sights and the safety I didn’t like. The safety was too tight to operate, and the sights were too small. So I took it to a local gunsmith, I was living in San Diego at the time, and, that was a bad mistake.

You know, if you think about the time, the mid-eighties, most of the gunsmiths were Vietnam veterans in their fifties. So, it’s not a place you take an AK. As soon as they see it… I thought I was gonna get my ass kicked before I got out. Well, these guys don’t like it.

So I decided if I’m gonna do it, I guess I gotta do it myself. So, that’s what started me down the road of learning the gun. I basically cut my teeth on Chinese and Hungarian AKs then because that’s all we could get.

Author looking at Type 2 AK build by Jim Fuller

And then in 89, that ended with, again, politics sticking its nose in the middle of the thing. Daddy Bush.
His executive order in 1989, banned all foreign “assault weapons”. We lost, that’s when they went into the post-ban stuff, the post-89 ban. Then we started getting things like Mac 90s from China, which had thumbhole stocks, and no threaded barrel.

Still a Type 56, just dressed up differently. And then, of course, when Clinton came in 92, you know, he put an end to Chinese gun imports.

And we couldn’t get ammo anymore. Back in those days, we used to get Chinese ammo for like 3-4 cents a round. It was good ammo too.

That day, we talked with Jim for a few hours about different aspects of the AK history in America. If you would like to read the other parts of the interview, let me know in the comments.

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: Instagram: YouTube:

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2 of 8 comments
  • Marc Marc on Jun 05, 2024

    Yes please; more of the Fuller interview.

  • Uniform223 Uniform223 on Jun 05, 2024

    Rifle Dynamics... making you pay Knights Armament prices for something that will never be as good as something from Knights Armament.

    Yeah I went there!