Jim Fuller Interview: Parts Kits, War in Iraq and the Beginnings of the AK Manufacturing in the USA

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

In the first part of the interview, I spoke with Jim Fuller about his experience with Chinese AKs. In this chapter, he will talk about the early 2000s, when US companies just started to build the first American-made AKs.

In 2007, Jim Fuller founded Rifle Dynamics in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2017, he sold the company and remained there for a few years as a consultant and later started a new company, Fuller Phoenix, in Scottsdale, Arizona joining forces with a renowned firearms instructor Travis Haley.

To this day, a lot of AKs made in the USA are based on imported parts kits. Those kits certainly became a foundation for AK manufacturing in the US. So I asked Jim, who was there when it all began, how it all started.

Jim Fuller showing to the author some of the guns he built, in January 2018.

Vlad: Just when did the whole thing with the parts kit start? What kind of legislation brought the situation to the point when the parts kit became necessary? Was it 1968 or 1986?

Jim: Well, we were getting parts kits even in the early sixties. But they were the parts kits when a gun basically just had one saw cut on a receiver. So the original reason, for the existence of parts kits, is just the fact that it makes it easier to repair existing guns. But people begin to figure out, well, if we just manufacture a receiver we can make a new gun out of this.

922r compliance is another issue too. The ATF came up with a list of 20 gun parts that they consider to be major. And so they decided that their general ruling was that any gun built here in the US could not have more than 10 imported parts out of 20.

And of the 20 parts that they have on the list, on an AKM, only 16 of those parts exist. Yeah. So you have to put 6 US parts in it for the rifle to be “American-made”.

Jim Fuller, testing one of the AK 74s built by his company

Vlad: When did people start building AKs using parts kits?

Jim: it just kinda died in 1994 after the assault weapon ban and then it didn’t really get revived until the early 2000s, because in 2004 the assault weapons ban expired.

Around 2003 another thing that came along was the war that started in the Middle East. Аt the time I was training together with friends, many of them were security contractors: Aegis, Blackwater guys…

And those guys were going over there and discovering the AK for the first time. They were former military guys and used to run an M4. And to that point, a lot of them had never seen any action, they’ve been in the military in peacetime. So, they go over there and get handed an AK and go: “What the hell is this thing?”

And then they used AK it a little bit and went: “Hey, this thing’s kinda cool”. And next thing you know, guys are calling me: “Jim, you do those AK things, right? Man, I’m coming back in about 6 months. I’m gonna have a shitload of money. Build me, like, 3 of them. I like these guns”.

Jim Fuller in his workshop, in 2015

That was when I just started to get my FFL. The contractors are basically what launched my company. First, I was just building AKs for friends. They’d come over, and we’d spend a weekend in my garage building guns. And, through that process, we started learning stuff.

Vlad: And just as far as I understand, those AKs stayed here stateside and were not shipped to the Middle East?

Jim: No, they were for their personal use. Now we sold stuff to contracting companies, but you know, that’s a different story all the time.

Vlad: Just my experience working in all those countries – you rarely get AKs from the US. Usually some cheap stuff.

Jim: Yeah, the stuff we make here is way too expensive for them. Like I said, I started out just you know building them for my friends. People like to say: “Man, I gotta have one of these. These are pretty cool guns. You know, I’m an M4 guy, but I want one of these too. Because it served me well in Iraq or wherever. It kinda reignited the desire for the Kalashnikov here.

Probably by 2006, I had so much stuff piled up in my house waiting to be built… Our dining room didn’t exist anymore. We just had box after box after box that people were sending me their parts kits and receivers.

Jim Fuller presenting his Father’s Day Special limited edition AKM, 2018

But at that point, we realized that and I was getting to that point where I could turn it into a business. My kids grew up and were moving out. And I was an electrician most of my life, I had to take care of them.

So, you know what? It’s time. Let’s do it. And originally, it was just intended for it to be a small, gunsmithing business just for our retirement. And, it kinda took off.

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: https://www.facebook.com/Vladimir-Onokoy-articles-and-videos-about-guns-and-other-unpopular-stuff-107273143980300/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vladonokoy/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/machaksilver

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2 of 4 comments
  • Magma Magma on Jun 06, 2024

    One of the guys responsible for turning AKs into $3200 Gucci guns.

  • Ted Ted on Jun 06, 2024

    Mr Fuller doesn’t quite seem to understand the origins of what he’s actually doing. The Bush Import Ban of 1989 prohibited importation of an array of rifles and shotguns that were considered not to have a sporting purpose. Individuals and companies quickly realized that the ban failed to also prohibit the importation of parts and complete parts kits for those very same rifles and shotguns. All parts could be imported separately, then assembled in the US after importation with no violation of law. This was legal and heavily exploited until Nov 1990 when code was amended to include USC 922r which closed this loophole.

    This gave birth to his entire AK business, not the used, demilled parts kits imported in the 1970s and 1980s.