How Do You Turn AK-47s Into Cufflinks? Very Carefully, Let's Hope

Would you buy cufflinks that used to be part of a Kalashnikov? Peter Thum hopes you—or at least some of those one-percenters—will.

In 2001, Thum founded Ethos Water, a company he eventually sold to Starbucks that uses 5¢ from each sale of its bottled water to fund water sanitation projects around the globe. This year, he helped launch Fonderie 47, a nonprofit group company that purchases assault rifles in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and turns them into "rare jewelry, watches, and accessories." The organization’s cufflinks reportedly cost around $35,000. Earrings run $150,000.

Thum and his co-founder John Zapolski started the organization after traveling extensively in Africa. “They have seen assault rifles in the hands of children,” a Fonderie 47 press release says, “and witnessed firsthand the problem of assault rifles and how it hinders many aspects of development across Africa.” To date, the group has destroyed more than 6,000 assault rifles purchased in the DRC and hopes eventually to eradicate illegal firearms from the continent.

The initiative sounds like a fantastic feel-good effort to fight child-soldiering and similar scourges, at least as long as you ignore the elephant in the room: How will it affect the local gun trade?

Forbes contributor Elmira Bayrasli queried Diana Wueger, who writes about international and domestic small-arms at the blog Gunpowder and Lead and for The Atlantic, about the organization. Wueger raised the salient concerns:

“Guns in conflict zones are commodities that obey basic economic principles—the market reacts to an increased demand by increasing prices, which could lead to some serious—and unpredictable—second-order effects.”

Bayrasli reports that the organization only works with “verified government sources,” not the open market:

Thum also notes that he would not have “started doing this” if he didn’t believe that by “buying up cheap weapons we can move the supply curve inward.” Replacement weapons, he notes, are more expensive in Africa, compared to the rest of the world. In Africa these weapons cost only about one-third what they do elsewhere in the world, so resupply from outside is expensive.

But if the initiative's purchases increases gun demand and prices rise, criminals and rebels and people generally will look for ways to get their weapons into the trade—through concealed government backchannels or bribes, perhaps. Fonderie 47 could wind up helping fund the types of activity it seeks to eradicate, and nefarious types still probably wouldn’t have trouble acquiring some of the estimated 20 million assault rifles in Africa.

The prevalence of illegal firearms may be an epiphenomenon anyway, clouding the underlying causes of the African conflicts Fonderie 47 seeks to remedy.

Read Reason on the related-but-different topic of gun control here.

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  • ||

    To date, the group has destroyed more than 6,000 assault rifles purchased in the DRC and hopes eventually to eradicate illegal firearms from the continent.

    That's remarkably stupid.

  • ||

    I'm buying up all the booze I can find in an effort to eradicate underage drinking.

  • Almanian||

    Good plan - I like the way you think

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Ya know, buying all the netherewave cloth in the auction house and then trying to gouge works for about 30 minutes...and costs several hundred gold. Weird how those same principles of economics just pop up everywhere.

  • R||

    My brother would watch the auction house for people trying to gouge on basic shit like that, then severely undercut them. He'd make a shit ton of money because he'd list the item for a bit more than it'd normally sell for, but because his competition was selling for 10x more, people would buy his stuff anyway.

    Then prices would slowly fall back to where they were before.

    I used to do the same thing occasionally, but I was never as WoW-addicted as my brother, and stopped paying for the game months ago.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I wouldn't call selling $25 worth of gun parts for $35K to $150K completely stupid.

  • Yup||

    Selling them isn't stupid.

    Buying them...

  • Alex Alvarez||

    I made a belt buckle out of a grenade. I unbuckled it and blew my legs off.

  • LarryA||

    Given that he's bought 6,000 of the 75,000,000 or so AK-47s legally produced, and that "counterfeit" (unlicensed) AKs are being manufactured fast enough to severely depress prices in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Congo and Ethiopia, to the point where they cost between $30 and $125 per weapon, I think Thum could cover everyone in the U.S. with bling and never dent the supply.

  • ||

    Am I the only one struggling with this:

    Replacement weapons, he notes, are more expensive in Africa, compared to the rest of the world. In Africa these weapons cost only about one-third what they do elsewhere in the world, so resupply from outside is expensive.

  • Gojira||

    The phrasing is bad, but I believe what he's saying is that not many are actually manufactured in Africa, so you have a fairly static number of weapons left over from mass Soviet imports. The ones that are there are cheap because they are currently so plentiful, but they would be very expensive to get new ones from overseas to replace.

  • ||

    That's it. Thanks. It was the big pool of leftover Soviet weapons that I was missing.

  • RoboCain||

    What makes you assume they were Soviet?

  • Chatroom Crank||

    1) They are AKs.
    2) The Soviets flooded the 3rd world with AKs and other weapons.

  • RoboCain||

    So did the Chinese, and many other countries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A.....n.2FRussia

  • Suki||

    Sell the cheap Chinese AK's and buy something really good.

  • tarran||

    I think they're implying that the price being depressed in Africa, outside importers would have to sell at a loss, making it expensive to import the weapons.

    It's an argument that is specious; the depressed price indicates that there is sufficient supply to support a reduced price. The existing supplys probably coming from weapons taken from nation states' armories, and those weapons are imported at the elevated price paid to overseas manufacturers. The nation states don't really care about the opportunity cost they suffer when they buy new weapons from overseas rather than on local markets, and they suffer the loss of the entire price of the gun when it is diverted/stolen.

  • ||

    Yeah, I was thinking they're going to have to drain an ocean of guns in order to really bring down the street price.

    He seems to be thinking that if he buys a gun for $200, and the replacement for that gun costs $600, then suddenly somehow the street price is going to go up to $600, or something.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Bayrasli reports that the organization only works with “verified government sources,” not the open market.

    Why take the chance that you might be working with criminals?

  • LarryA||

    Partiularly in that part of the world there's little if any difference between "verified government sources" and criminals.

  • sven||

    Are there laws in these countries that say they're illegal, or is the "illegal" thing just something to make it seem like he's doing some sort of justice to Africans?

    An AK is a revolutionary's best friend.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    If anyone should not have the right to own a kind of firearm, that firearm certainly is not the AK.

  • ||

    That was an odd way to say it.

  • GILMORE||

    In 2001, Thum founded Ethos Water, a company he eventually sold to Starbucks that uses 5¢ from each sale of its bottled water to fund water sanitation projects around the globe

    TASTE THE IRONY!

    Bottled water being the single largest contributor to landfills in the US for the last 20 years, and efforts to dispose of the peskily -degrading bottles resulting in both groundwater contamination as well as introductions of toxins in the atmosphere...

    But hey, an extra nickel for yuppies to feel morally absolved? You go girl! Also... blowing 5-figures on some cufflinks?... Thats the way you achieve world piece.

    Fuckin schmoos.

    86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter. Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Almost 40 percent of the PET bottles that were deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 were actually exported, sometimes to as far away as China—adding to the resources used by this product.

    In addition to the strains bottled water puts on our ecosystem through its production and transport, the rapid growth in this industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. ..

    Seriously though. Maybe he'll get kidnapped. It IS the congo. There's always hope.

  • ||

    I'm sure the people getting potable water from his program are just weeping aloud for us poor Americans with our landfills full of plastic bottles and the tough decisions we face on what to make for dinner.

    Mo-ron.

  • Apatheist||

    They could donate the money without buying bottled water.

  • ||

    Of course they could, but I doubt those people aren't looking the gift horse in the mouth.

  • Ice Nine||

    Watch for it: That mo-ron will be one of those CNN "heroes" next year.

  • GILMORE||

    You think maybe there's a more effective way to provide 'water sanitation' programs than through the most garbage-producing means?

    naaaaaa....

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Not that I pay extra money for shit like this, but having clean water seems more important than worrying about diluted chemicals with health effects that don't even add up to mattering until the time you die of old age.

  • chroma||

    How does burning PET produce chlorine or heavy metals? It's made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

  • ||

    an epiphenomenon

    There can be only one!

  • ||

    Jim has already used this quote today, but it needs to be quoted again:

    "Shake, wait. The Highlander was just a movie. "

    "No, Frylock, The Highlander was a documentary, and events happened in real time."

  • ||

    +1 sloopy?

  • ||

    Hang on, sloopy.

  • Beloved Rev. Blue Moon||

    O-H!

  • ||

    I-O!

    Gotta beat Michigan. Just. Got. To.

  • Gojira||

    There's never a wrong time to use that quote. Or this one:

    "I don't need no instructions to know how to rock!"

  • ||

    "Listen to me Randy, it doesn't matter if you're white, or black, or a Sasquatch even. As long as you follow your dreams, no matter how crazy or against the law it is. Except for Sasquatch, if you're a Sasquatch the rules are different."

  • mofo||

    Your hot blooded, go ahead and check it, you'll see.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Those dogs can smell anything. that's why you gotta kick 'em in the throat!

  • Applederry||

    Is there any group easier to market to than guilt-ridden rich people?

  • ||

    I can think of one.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Let me guess.... is it hipsters?

  • ||

    Rich musicians with bad fashion sense?

  • ||

    How will it affect the local gun trade?

    I'm going out on my favorite limb to say they'll sell the worst rifles and use the money to buy better ones.

  • wingnutx||

    So, just like a gun buy-back in Baltimore.

  • db||

    Except in Baltimore they don't bother buying new ones ...they just go into the burbs and rural areas and steal them.

  • The Other Kevin||

    The prevalence of illegal firearms may be an epiphenomenon anyway, clouding the underlying causes of the African conflicts Fonderie 47 seeks to remedy.

    The theory is that if you take away weapons, it will also take away the desire to shoot someone. In reality you are probably a) making one person into an easier target, or b) creating a more profitable (and violent) black market.

    If this guy really wanted to make a difference, he'd try to find out what's behind the desire for one group to kill another group, and work on fixing that.

  • Mikheil||

    I predict machete mutilations will rise

  • ||

    he'd try to find out what's behind the desire for one group to kill another group, and work on fixing that.

    Property rights might be a good place to start.

  • The Other Kevin||

    Yes. I was also thinking, getting rid of corrupt governments that don't give a shit about their own citizens because someone else is taking care of them.

  • Mikheil||

    Am I the only one who would.buy these cuflinks omly if it came with the death cert. Of the person said gun was a tool of death

  • Almanian||

    Oh, that is so full of win!

    There are now at least two of us.

  • logic||

    This would be more interesting if they were actually buying enough guns to have any effect on the gun trade. But they aren't. It's a stupid idea, but won't actually do much harm because it seems that it is being done at a very small scale.

  • ||

    And the people buying this shit aren't going to be high-conscience blue-blooded liberals. The're going to be the kind of people who think that AK-47 cufflinks are just the kind of bling they need to acessorize their diamond studded gold teeth.

  • ||

    What are we looking at, in that photo? A trigger and a sear?

  • Almanian||

    Cufflinks.

    DUH!

  • db||

    I cant identify them other than the trigger. Which makes me think that shalf the cufflink is new manufacture or the guns are some obscure eastern european variety of AK. There's no auto sear there and nothing else I can identify from the fire control group. Maybe sight pieces? The one part looks a bit like a reworked FAL magazine release. If they cut up FALs for this project that woulx be a travesty.

  • Mikheil||

    And another thing an illegal ak goes for what 300 and some change in the u.s. and an sk is like 175 so how the fuck do parts come out to 5 figures? Either government is making a killing on this or somethin

  • ||

    The Fonderie 47 website says buying a set of cuff links takes 200 rifles off the market. So at $300 street price, that's $60,000, plus inevitable graft and price inflation from dealing with official corrupt African governments, plus paying the designer and production costs.

  • Inquiry||

    "ak goes for what 300 and some change in the u.s. and an sk is like 175"

    Could you recommend some pointers in how to start looking for leads? I know they're out there but deals are hard to come by for someone without serious connections. And I have this thing against registering equipment.

  • wingnutx||

    Backpage.com is where I have sold rifles.

    Face to face sale between individuals = no registration of NICS paperwork.

    No way are you going to find a sporter-AK for $300, though.

  • Mikheil||

    Depends on if u care if its "dirty" or not...

  • Almanian||

    What's an "assault" rifle?

  • RoboCain||

    A shoulder-mounted gun with select fire that uses an intermediate round.

  • SIV||

    “They have seen assault rifles in the hands of children”

    They make good soldiers. And it's not like there are schools and little league soccer matches they'd be going to if they weren't fighting.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I thought the ICC was supposed to take care of that.

  • chris||

    Every awesome trend has some wretched progressive attempting to stifle it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11......html?_r=1

    I was enjoying this article, and thinking about what I would do with a custom cargo van when the write less this turd hop in the punchbowl;

    They are a striking and sometimes unwelcome counterpoint to other trends seen on city streets, where tiny Smart cars dart around hybrid taxis and traffic lanes once reserved for gas-guzzlers are now for bicycles or pedestrians.

    “Using your vehicle as a luxury lounge is just usurping public space for your own private use,” said Michael Murphy, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that encourages New Yorkers to travel around the city more responsibly. “Streets are shared space and belong to the community.”

    Seriously dude, you are about as welcome as a brain tumor, and serve a similar function.

  • chris||

    write less this turd hop in the punchbowl;

    writer let this turd hop in the punchbowl:

    Errors occurred when i replaced punchbowel with punchbowl. Epi is right, the originals are always better.

  • ||

    Ahem.

  • ||

    RC came up with the law about it, chris.

    Though it seems we may need a new law, which is when you put non-allowed characters in your handle when trying to take credit for the law you coined, and fuck up said handle. What would we call such a law?

  • chris||

    Unacceptable Unicode Tagging Attempts?

  • ||

    Escape Character's Law?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Law #039; ?

  • ||

    Yes. I like this one.

  • chris||

    Unicode Tagging Fail has a better ring.

  • ||

    How about RC'z Law?

  • ||

    Fuck me. Double unicode tagging fail.

  • ||

    R C'z Law

    That what you were looking for?

  • pmains O'Shaughnessy||

    The apostrophe looks fine in preview. Hitting submit to satisfy my curiosity.

  • pmains||

    Nope. I still don't know how RC got the funky Unicode token in his name.

  • ||

    “Streets are shared space and belong to the community.”

    So, he must have been massively pissed when the Occutards, what was the phrase, ah yes: were "usurping public space for your own private use".

    Bet he was cheering and punching the air when they got cleared out.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Sprinters are remarkably fuel efficient.

  • Cowboy||

    I can sorta get behind this guy's company.

    1. He sees what he thinks is a problem
    2. He creates an idea to help alleviate the problem
    3. He creates a product and uses the market to help him in his cause.

    People that think helping fund water wells in Africa, but are also thirsty yuppies can buy his bottled water.

    People who want less guns in Africa, and want unique cufflinks can buy those.

    Don't want either of those? Don't buy them, the market will decide. I mean, he could be lobbying the government for intervention and aide instead.

  • Apatheist||

    I agree in general but this plan in particular is retarded because it won't reduced the amount of guns in Africa and in fact will likely fund the very groups that are causing the violence.

    Similarly selling bottled water, which as pointed out above is an incredibly wasteful way to drink water, to fund water improvements is questionable.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Always refresh before posting, always refresh

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Problem being, he's probably having the exact opposite result on guns in Africa. He's just fueling the market for them.

  • Cowboy||

    Well, that sounds like his and everyone who buys his product's problem, not mine.

    He's buying the guns fair and square, near as I can tell.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I get your point, but I still get to call him stupid, because it makes me feel better about myself.

  • Cowboy||

    Well there's no debating that, lol. Him and his customers both are stupid. But at least they get to feel good about themselves or something.

    (I'll bet Thum feels real good about himself when he sees the suckers lining up for $35k cufflinks)

  • RoboCain||

    Something can easily be stupid and free-market at the same time, like pet rocks and crack whores.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    fuck me, best line of the day.

  • ||

    Using your vehicle as a luxury lounge is just usurping public space for your own private use,” said Michael Murphy, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that encourages New Yorkers to travel around the city more responsibly. “Streets are shared space and belong to the community.”

    What an odious little pathetic douchebag busybody.

    "That nagging fear that somewhere, someone is having a good time."

  • Dekedin||

    Wait, isn't this similar to the libertarian alternative to the Civil War. I've herd multiple people say that the Union should have just bought all of the Confederate slaves, no more slavery. Wouldn't this be the same thing, but with guns?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Sourcing black slaves isn't as easy as AKs.

  • Tonio||

    That sounds good, but ignores two realities: 1) Where would the (former) slaves have gone to (hint: poor northerners didn't want the labor competition). 2) Who would have picked the cotton and tobacco in the South? (hint: not Mexicans).

  • Sudden||

    I could go for a monocle made from the sights of a high powered assault rifle that has been used to end the existence of several third world residents.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I'll sell you one for $500K.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Too cheap for my tastes

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Seriously though, $35,000 cufflinks? $150,000 earrings? Is there a particular type of stupid that suddenly sets in when you become uber-rich?

  • Hugh Akston||

    More expensive = fewer people have it = better.

    Once your basic needs and secondary desires are taken care of, it's all about status. Galt help me if I ever get that rich.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    That's like the Chinese approach to medicine. The rarer it is, the better it must be for you.

    My new business - Buying tiger penis from zoos and selling it to Chinese gazillionaires for exorbitant amounts. I'll promise half the profits to the zoos so they can catch more tigers. It can't fail!

    I'm gonna be rich!

  • Apatheist||

    Already done, though they don't even bother putting the tiger in anymore:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Balm

    Shit sells like hotcakes in Asia.

  • PantsFan||

    If you buy cufflinks for $35,000 you're a fool.
    If you sell cufflinks for $35,000 your'e a genius.

  • AlmightyJB||

    It's the same people that but a 170K dollar blue ray player

    http://digitallife.today.msnbc.....h-products

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    THAT is the pinnacle of stupid. I understand overpaying for artwork, you're gambling on the long term value going up. But electronics? Unless it's made from gold, it's obsolete in 18 months.

  • RoboCain||

    AudioQuest Diamond HDMI Cable ($1,495)

  • ||

    There may be a particular type of stupid that causes you to become super rich selling gangsta rap.

  • Apatheist||

    The value isn't in the objects themselves but in the image it protrays to others: that you "care."

  • ||

    I seriously doubt the market for these product will have a significant impact on the gun market in Africa.

    I also seriously doubt that the market for these products is likely to be composed of people who give a shit about the impact of guns on African society.

  • ||

    Galt help me if I ever get that rich.

    I was in Gump's department store, in San Francisco, many years ago, and saw a life-size porcelain dog; I was overwhelmed with the desire to buy it and heave it off the roof, just to rid the world of it. That is the sort of stuff I would do.

    That, and emulate W C Fields' role in If I Had a Million.

    ROADHOOOOOG!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Funny thing, my uncle had a 5 foot marble statue of a rabbit in his house. Couldn't figure out if he really liked it, or if he was just playing an expensive practical joke on everyone.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    He probably just got high and had conversations with the thing.

  • SFC B||

    Wait... what "government" group is he buying these from? Off the top of my head I cannot think of an African government which wouldn't use more money from selling old, beat-up AKs to buy newer, and better, equipment.

  • Gimlet||

    Government vs. Soup Kitchen At Thanksgiving, the poor pay for dumb regulation.

    This Thursday, in a parish hall not far from the New Jersey town green where George Washington once made his winter headquarters, as many as 300 people will gather for their Thanksgiving meal. Some will be homeless, some will be mentally ill, some will be old, and some will be folks and families who have just hit a hard patch. For all of them, Morristown's Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center is one of the few blessings they can count on.

    In many ways, this soup kitchen illustrates Tocqueville's point about the American genius for voluntary association. Having started out in a local Episcopal church, it has grown into a network that links restaurants, corporate sponsors and community groups with volunteers from nearly three dozen church congregations, including this reporter's. The result is a hot meal to anyone who comes to the door each noon, no questions asked.

    This the men and women of the Community Soup Kitchen have provided for 26 years, not once missing a day. Now comes a challenge greater than any snowstorm or power outage. Earlier this year, the Morristown Division of Health ruled that henceforth the soup kitchen would be considered a "retail" food establishment under New Jersey law.

    From that single word far-reaching consequences have flowed. In a column for a local blog, Ray Friant, a volunteer from the Morristown United Methodist Church, called the rule "crazy." Over Sunday breakfast at a local diner, Mr. Friant, his wife, Emmy Lu, and another church couple who also volunteer at the kitchen, Barbara and Jim Morris, spell out what they mean by crazy.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/.....In_Opinion

  • RoboCain||

    I can't seem to see the the rest of the article.

  • ||

    Sprinters are remarkably fuel efficient.

    Not when they're idling motionless at the curb.

  • Warty||

    YOU FUCKING ANIMALS YOU MONSTERS GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL

  • Michael B. Sullivan||

    I think those cufflinks look pretty cool. Shame they cost a million-billion dollars.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Wealth is not created by destroying assets.

  • grinding plant||

    This the men and women of the Community Soup Kitchen have provided for 26 years, not once missing a day. Now comes a challenge greater than any snowstorm or power outage. Earlier this year, the Morristown Division of Health ruled that henceforth the soup kitchen would be considered a "retail" food establishment under New Jersey law.

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