Gun manufacturer Colt says it plans to end production of AR-15-style rifles for the civilian market. The company plans to limit its production to police and military contracts.
The West Hartford-based gun company said Thursday this is not a political decision. CEO Dennis Veilleux said in a statement that Colt is “a stout supporter of the Second Amendment."
The national debate on gun restrictions has largely focused on semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and other AR-15 style weaopns because of their use in high-profile mass shootings.
Veilleux said the market for AR-15s is saturated.
"The company itself said the market does not seem to be there," said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland and an expert on the politics of guns. "It is not a robust market of lots of people purchasing assault-type weapons. Lots of companies make these sorts of weapons. And they're available fairly cheaply just because of competition."
AR-15-style rifles are a political lightning rod. Colt has faced criticism from gun rights supporters for the change in direction.
“This business decision by Colt to suspend civilian production of assault weapons in no way substitutes for commonsense steps to stop gun violence like universal background checks and emergency risk protection order laws that I am fighting to achieve in Congress," said Sen. Richard Blumenthanl. "An overwhelming majority of the American people – including gun owners – support such measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
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 plans for the gun from its original manufacturer in the 1950's and saw it rise to become one of the most popular firearms in the world.
Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shootings Sports Foundation, says Colt's decision does not necessarily spell doom for AR-15, which is manufactured by companies around the world.
"Colt has made a business decisont 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."
The company said that its AR-15 sales have been declining but that it could resume selling AR-15s 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 milatry sales.
This post has been updated.