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Zeroed In – Jim Fuller

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Jim Fuller, The Subordination of Ego for Married Life, and Why Prostitution is a More Ethical Career Than Politics

You cannot disscuss AKs in America without talking to Jim Fuller. It’s just not done, but be forewarned — he is going to tell you exactly what he thinks, and he won’t never win any awards for diplomacy. A wry man of blunt speech and fierce loyalty, Fuller looks like a Sam Peckinpah gunslinger who just woke up and talks like he had a blood transfusion from Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov hisself. We caught up to the preeminent AK-47 gunsmith during a brief lull he had between teaching classes, taking classes, and building American versions of the iconic COMBLOC rifle.


RECOIL: You’ve been building AKs and AK variants since the ’80s and running Rifle Dynamics full time for the last decade or so. What’s the single greatest aspect of the Kalashnikov design?

Jim Fuller: Its renowned reliability, partly due to a combination of loose tolerances and flexible design. The tapered case ammo is another primary factor.

When discussing the AK, particularly as compared to the AR, you often mention “Eastern thought” versus “Western thought” when referring to the role perspective plays in opinions about and use of the AK. Can you talk a little about that or clarify what you mean? Is there a single fundamental difference between Eastern and Western rifle philosophy, or is it a layered contrast?

JF: In America’s industrial heyday we designed things to be strong and precise, with tight tolerances, etc., where the East was more concerned with functionality, simplicity, and ease and cost of manufacturing. From the Great Wars forward the East used a lot of stamped sheetmetal designs, while we milled things from blocks of steel and aluminum. The one exception I can think of is the grease gun [the M3 submachine gun] of WWII. To my knowledge this was the only stamped sheetmetal gun our military ever fielded.
The flexible sheetmetal design and tolerances of the AKM work well at keeping things from binding up, whereas stiff tight tolerances are less forgiving and bind up much easier. Today, though, I would say it’s more layered. I mean, if you look at some of what the Russian Tier 1 guys are running it’s very reminiscent of our M-4. Even the AK-74 that most of their modern fighting guns are based on is chambered in the 5.45×39 round. That caliber was their answer to our 5.56 round … kind of a melding of two schools of thought. Some of their new gas system designs are quite forward thinking and are becoming more complex designs as well. The Russians are evolving the AK design.


Did you ever have the chance to meet Kalashnikov himself? Ever train, study, or visit in Russia or some other “AK place” overseas in the pursuit of your craft, or did you stay largely CONUS and work at it yourself?

JF: No, sadly I didn’t get to meet him. It was on my bucket list and will never be crossed off now. I did pursue the AK on my own though. Back in the early ’80s when I discovered the AK myself, nobody here would work on them. Most of the gunsmiths back then were Vietnam veterans and understandably hated the AK. I realized if I wanted any work done on it, I would have to do it myself. So, I bought a few and began learning them inside and out. Fortunately they were cheap back then, because I really screwed one up learning what made them tick.
Then, in 2001, a friend from Poland sent me some arsenal blueprints and information from field trials conducted by the Polish government. After getting it translated I found it to be a treasure trove of info. It kinda filled in the holes from what I had learned from working on ChiCom and Hungarian guns, which were mostly all that was around back then.


One of your goals has been to help further the “normalization of the AK” in modern U.S. society. What do you mean by that, and do you honestly believe it’ll ever happen?

JF: By normalization I mean a true U.S. spec, preferably something close to Russian with improvements that bring the gun into the 21st century, while staying true to a design that made the Kalashnikov the most dependable fighting rifle ever. That’s really hard to do unless the military sets standards that all will need to follow in some way, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. There are some companies trying to develop U.S.-made parts; some are giving it honest effort, but sadly most have followed a path of trying to cheap out the building process. This has resulted in low-end substandard guns that are failing regularly. We’ve been working on our own parts with some success, but we don’t have development budgets like the big guys so it will be awhile for us.


Can you give us your take on the current direction of the firearms industry writ large?

JF: I really only pay close attention to the AK community, which is small in comparison industry wide, but rapidly growing. Ten years ago when Karen [Jim’s wife] and I started Rifle Dynamics, not only was there not much available for the AK, there was nowhere near the current market for it. Over the years, that has changed. A lot of big-name trigger pullers are running AKs these days, which certainly drives the market for guns, accessories, and training. Innovation is happening, a lot of decent parts and products are coming, more and more “made in USA” stuff is becoming available. Which makes me really happy as long as it’s a purposeful product and not just sellout stuff. America was once the world’s industry leader in many things, but industry mindset got sidetracked into thinking “Make it cheaper so we can make a better profit” instead of the old-school mindset of “Make it better so it’s worth more.” One mindset drives innovation; the other kills it.

You ran for office once, and said it didn’t go well. What was that all about?

JF: I ran for city council in Redondo Beach, California, in 1995 and was beaten badly by a typical California liberal. I think the results were like, 70/30 or so. Liberal beach community mindset and pro-gun conservative thought doesn’t mix well. It taught me a lot about politics and made me realize that prostitution is likely a far more ethical and moral way to make a living than holding public office.


You’ve been married 32 years now. How did you meet Mrs. Fuller? What does she shoot? What advice would you give a young man who is about to propose to a young woman?

JF: Karen was a part-time bookkeeper for a company I used to work for. After two failed marriages, when I met Karen I knew she was everything the others weren’t, and I wasn’t going to let her get away. Make sure you and she both know for sure what you’re looking for in a life partner and in a life together. Be prepared to put your ego away when necessary, and most of all, never give up on something because you think it’s broken. Try to find a way to fix it. Karen built and runs her own RD 502 and carries a Glock 19.

What’s your typical everyday carry?

JF: A Glock 19, a Glock 43, two Emerson Super 7s, and if I have a rifle with me, it’s my AKS 74URD.


If a new/young gunsmith or entrepreneur came to you for advice today about opening a shop or starting a business, what would you tell him?

JF: In my opinion, the most important thing is if you are going to do anything that involves fighting guns, then be the absolute best you can make yourself be. If someone is counting on a gun you work on or build for self-defense, you better take that seriously. If you’re not or you can’t, then go make lower-tier guns and products for recreational use. Make sure you understand the difference between those two markets.

If you knew a fight was coming and you had to pick a rifle other than a Kalashnikov or an AR platform of some kind, what would it be? If you just had to.

JF: If I just had to … the FAL or the M1A. I love the 7.62×51 cartridge.


Rifle Dynamics (RD) was founded in 2007 with the express purpose of producing a line of “…fighting rifles anyone could count on.” The fighting part of it is significant. Fuller draws a distinction between guys who shoot and true riflemen.

“We are shooters before gunsmiths,” he says. “There’s a difference between how a shooter and a gunsmith approaches the gun. We build guns that shooters want, not necessarily guns that gunsmiths like.”

RD, which began in Jim Fuller’s garage, specializes in the Kalashnikov rifle. Its purpose is to help popularize the AK platform here in the United States, to take it to a place they believe it should have been a long time ago. Fuller says their philosophy is, “Let’s just all make the industry bigger and better. Let’s normalize the AK.”

To that end they do more than sell RD rifles. They do their best to support all AK shooters, including providing tutorials on buying a budget AK for those who can’t afford one from RD, helping people watch for crooked trunnions and proper mag fit, for instance, and disseminating knowledge.

RD began just building custom rifles, but as they grew more accustomed to the commonality of what people wanted they developed their own production guns. All the variants of the RD500 and RD700 series are the result of what they learned over the years, and feature the work Jim’s crew is probably best known for — their muzzle devices and gas blocks, and also their AK sights.
Jim readily admits his rifles are in the higher price range, but there’s a reason for that, and they’ve addressed the need for something more affordable with such rifles as the RD-M. However, he’s no longer interested in trying to justify the cost. He says he’s, “…not trying to rip people off, just trying to give people the best gun he can for the money. Buy one, or don’t.” His own favorite, by the way, is either his own AKS 74URD or the AK105, which he describes as the “ultimate expression of the Kalashnikov design.”

“Working on AKs is more like blacksmithing than gunsmithing,” Jim laughs, “but the design works. Buy Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Yugoslavian, Chinese, Egyptian, or another American gun, but get one that does what you need it to do.”

AGE: 60
BORN & RAISED: California
Lives: Nevada
WIFE: Karen, Married 32 Yrs
SONS: James, Ian, & Matt
FAVORITE BOOZE: Any good whiskey
FAVORITE ALBUM/SONG: Five Finger Death Punch, Got Your Six
BACKGROUND: Spent most of his early years in the construction industry, but worked on the side in executive protection, bail enforcement and gunsmithing
> 1998 – 2003 Firearms instructor for Front Sight
> 2003-2009 Firearms instructor for Suarez International
> 2007 – Established Rifle Dynamics


Finnish M39 Valmet 1942 on an 1895
Russian Mosin receiver
1955 Israeli FAL Prototype clone, 80-percent original
1954 Tula SKS
Norinco NHM 91
1981 Chinese Type 56 S-2
1952 Russian Type 2 AK-47 reweld
Arsenal 556 AK modded to RD spec
On the floor Left
to right:
RD DMR prototype
AKS 74URD (Fuller’s favorite)
RD 502 Prototype
RD 300 Black Out Prototype


JIM FULLER’s Everyday carry
AKS 74
Two Emerson Super 7s
Glock 19 Gen 2
Glock 43 with light
HSP/G-Code Holsters


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