By Shari LeGate
Running any business is hard work, and it’s an ongoing learning process. It’s even harder when the product and industry you’ve chosen is still new to you. In 2013, she thought guns were bad. Particularly AKs. Now, it’s her favorite firearm. At 39 years old, Cassandra Harris has traveled quite the journey since entering the shooting sports industry six years ago. Her mindset about guns changed when she first began shooting. Harris started to understand why people felt so strongly about the Second Amendment and, for her, it was an empowering moment.
“Getting over the fear and looking at it as a tool to protect myself was the biggest change,” she explained. “And it’s been life changing.”
Being new to guns and the shooting sports industry, Harris has learned a lot in a short time. The most important, she said, is, “If you want to be taken seriously, you have to be able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
For someone who didn’t like guns only a few years ago, Harris’ role today is all the more impressive. She is now co-owner of Lee Armory, a company that builds AKs. Since taking over the company last year with her cousin, 33-year-old Josh Leighton, she admits it’s been a learning process — but one she’s embraced with gusto. Harris has gone from not being “into” guns to manufacturing them, selling them and giving people the opportunity to become involved in the process of building one.
Her Firearm Of Choice: The AK
Harris likes the AK platform and believes it’s one of the most misunderstood and underrated firearms in the U.S. She feels most new users are unfamiliar with the platform’s design and she’s out to change this perception. Harris likes it because it’s simple, easy and, according to her, it works. It’s reliable and as she said, “It doesn’t pick a fight with you.”
Teaming up with AKM manufacturer M+M Industries, Lee Armory is providing a cost-effective AKM-style rifle (the modernized variant of the AK first released in the late 1950s) by importing manufactured forged military production parts from the ROMARM Factory in Cugir, Romania. This new trend of importing brand-new parts kits and assembling the rifle in the U.S. is becoming the standard in AK manufacturing. Parts kits are built to military standard, imported and then assembled into complete, legal semi-auto rifles on U.S. soil.
The Lee Armory AK-47-style rifle is built from these brand-new AKM kits, with Cugir cold hammer-forged and chrome-lined barrels. The forged trunnions and forged carriers are built on the same machinery military AKs flow from. The rifles are built on U.S.-made stamped receivers.
Harris likes the AK platform and believes
it’s one of the most misunderstood
and underrated firearms in the U.S.
Of all the products Lee Armory offers, two lead the pack (which the company is having a hard time keeping in stock): the Romanian Military Classic AKM and the recently introduced Sporter Hunter AK (both in 7.62×39). While the Military Classic AKM is a traditional AKM-pattern rifle, the RL-762 Sporter Hunter AK rifle doesn’t have an AK-style vertical pistol grip. With the Lee Armory enhanced receiver, the trigger is moved to the rear and curved pistol-grip stock is added.
The RL-762 Sporter Hunter AK rifle with ROMARM forged Romanian military parts is 100% legal in New York, New Jersey, California and many other states where the AK is banned because it has no pistol grip. What makes this gun so unique is it ships with a 10-round magazine, but it can accept double-stack magazines. And with the add-on stock sets, simply changing screws and a little elbow grease will return the rifle back to AKM.
Propagating The AK’s Strengths
Not only does Lee Armory build AK rifles in their factory in Phoenix, they offer classes on how to build one and see the process. These one- and two-day classes are scheduled monthly and take the AK enthusiast from a box of parts to a finished rifle. Harris, who learned how to build these guns, wanted to share the experience. When she built her first rifle it was one of the most memorable moments in her life, she explained.
“Being able to offer this service with the right equipment, the right tools and with the right instructors is important to me. I want people to understand AKs are different than ARs, and I want them to have a rifle that shoots well and is reliable,” she said.
“When learning to build an AK- or ComBloc-style rifle, the precision and handcrafted art of rivet smashing is a key element,” Harris continued. “Our classes instruct each student on the technique in addition to barrel head space and population. Head spacing encompasses one of the most important tasks for the rifle to function safely. Canted sights are the most irritating issue with most AK-style rifles. When students are done with our class, they have a complete understanding of how to eliminate this issue and/or prevent it from happening.”
Cassandra Harris loves being a part of the shooting sports industry and it’s apparent as soon as you meet her. Her enthusiasm and excitement over the AK platform and the shooting sports is infectious. Just six years ago she thought guns were bad. Now she’s one of the most vocal advocates for female shooters and the AK platform.
4201 S. 37th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85040