Gun manufacturer Colt says it plans to suspend production of AR-15-style rifles for the civilian market. The company plans to limit its production to fulfilling its police and military contracts.
The national debate on gun restrictions has largely focused on semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and other so-called “assault weapons,” because of their use in high-profile mass shootings.
Colt says the decision is not a political one.
CEO Dennis Veilleux said in a statement that the company is “a stout supporter of the Second Amendment,” but that the market for AR-15-style rifles is saturated.
“It is not a robust market of lots of people purchasing assault-type weapons,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland who writes often on guns. “So part of this, at least, is a marketing decision. Lots of companies make these sorts of weapons and they're available fairly cheaply just because of competition.”
Colt, which is based in West Hartford, Connecticut, said that sales of its AR-15 models have been declining. But it also maintains that it could resume selling the rifles to civilians in the future.
Just hours after Colt released a statement on its shift away from the civilian market, the U.S. Army announced it had awarded the company a $41.9 million contract to produce rifles for foreign military sales.
AR-15-style rifles are a political lightning rod.
Colt has faced criticism from gun rights supporters for the change in direction.
Meanwhile, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke made waves at a recent Democratic primary debate for saying, “Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
“Politically speaking, these weapons have come to be seen as sort of at the core of America's gun problem,” Spitzer said, “and that is attributable to the fact that they have increasingly been used by mass shooters, even though they represent a small percentage of guns in America.”
Colt has a storied history with the AR-15. The company purchased the plans for the gun from its original manufacturer in the 1950s and saw it rise to become one of the most popular firearms in the world.
Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says Colt’s decision does not necessarily spell doom for the AR-15, which is manufactured by companies around the world.
“Colt has made a business decision that's going to be in the best interest of their company — to be able to provide services to government contracts, to be able to continue to pursue those with law enforcement and the military,” Oliva said. “But obviously they have chosen, at the time, to stop sales to the civilian market. It's an individual business decision. I don't think it's something that's indicative of the firearms market itself.”
Guns & America’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this story. Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.