Is the SKS the Next Garand?
October 30, 2014
For decades, the SKS has been among the least-expensive centerfire semiauto rifles available in the U.S. But, as worldwide supplies dry up, prices on SKSs have crept skyward, and what was once considered little more than a throwaway gun is enjoying a growing demand. No one has ever declared the SKS as the "greatest battle implement ever devised," but, from a cost perspective, it may very well be the Garand of this generation in terms of mil-surp availability.
15 million SKSs (Simonov Self- Loading Carbine) were built from the time of its design in Russia during World War II until today. The AK47 and later AKM made the SKS nearly obsolete almost immediately after its adoption in the Soviet Union, but a large number of SKS variants were produced outside of Russia in places such as China, Romania and Yugoslavia. Since the SKS is among the last non-NFA general-issue shoulder arms produced in large numbers, it will likely be the last surplus firearm we'll see imported in en masse. CFR 922(r), which regulates the importation of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, makes things even more complicated and prevents even semiauto FALs from being imported in their complete form. In short, unless the armies of the world turn back the clock of innovation and embrace weapons of the past, we will never see the mass importation of any military rifle designed after the 1950s. We're more likely to see the return of horse cavalry.
When I began hitting gun shows with my dad back in the late 1980s, I recall seeing crates of new SKSs, still in cosmoline, for sale at a mere $79 per rifle ($75 if you bought the entire crate). I don't recall the country of origin of those rifles, but I believe that they were Chinese Type 56s. Even though I probably had the money in my pocket from working odd jobs, the old man wouldn't let me take one home â€” "junk" he said (he has one now). Today, a Chicom SKS will run you north of $300. Even adjusted for inflation, the price has more than doubled in those 25 years. "Surplus is drying up" Jacob Herman at Century Arms International told me when I inquired about the overseas availability of rifles such as the SKS. As fewer guns become available, prices will climb â€” thus, $300+ SKSs.
Though over 6 million Garands were built, not all of them stayed in the U.S. to be sold as surplus. Garands were shipped to armies all over the world where they have sat in warehouses since later designs were adopted by the armies of those nations. For decades, the best place to purchase a Garand has been through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) â€” many CMP Garands were sourced from these overseas stockpiles. CMP Garands start at $595 today, and wait times are as long as 9 months. If you don't want to wait for a CMP rifle, you can buy one off the used market, but be prepared to pay closer to $1000 for a serviceable example. With an executive order preventing many overseas M1s from being re-imported by the CMP, that price is certain to rise further as supplies diminish. Garands are fairly expensive today, but they weren't inexpensive rifles when they were brand new. The $85 price tag that the Department of War paid for the M1 in the 1940s calculates to almost $1400 in today's dollars, which means that Garands are actually less expensive today than they were seven decades ago. There was a time though, that Garands were dirt cheap. During the 1950s and 60s, M1 Garands and Carbines were available as surplus for less than the U.S. government paid for them in the 40s. Relatively speaking, the Garand was as available and inexpensive in those days as the SKS was in our recent past.
I know what you're going to say â€” a Garand is the supreme example of skilled American craftsmanship and precision (and French-Canadian ingenuity), how dare you compare it to Chinese garbage? Patriotic emotion aside, let's compare the two. Designed to be operable by hastily trained 19-year-olds? Check. Issued to a major army and tested in years of combat? Check. Non-detachable magazine holding more than five rounds of .30 caliber ammo? Check, kinda. Chambered for a widely-available cartridge? Check. Milled receiver, all metal parts and a hardwood stock? Check. Parts readily available for modification and repair? Check. Harder to get that they used to be? Check. Both rifles are serviceable, sufficiently accurate for their intended purpose, durable and easy to operate. Sure, the SKS is "clumsy" as Col. Jeff Cooper put it, but it does what it was built to do. I'm not trading you my Garand for your Simonov, but they're not as unalike as they seem at first mention.
The heart of the matter is pure economics. You have two rifles that were produced in seemingly endless numbers and sold as surplus for a song. As supplies constrict due to natural or regulatory factors, prices rise. We've seen it with Mausers, '03 Springfields, M1 Carbines, Garands and, yes, even SKSs. Barring unforeseen supplies or future policy changes that will flood the U.S. market with old military rifles, we will see prices of all surplus arms continue to climb. At some point, we'll likely look back at even today's high prices longingly as 'the good ole days.'
What do you think the future holds for SKS availability? Join the debate in the comments below!