Commentary

Citing Crowded Market, Colt Suspends Sale Of AR-15 Rifles To Consumers

Firearms maker Colt yesterday confirmed that it would stop selling rifles to the general public -- but it made clear it was responding to an oversaturated market for AR-15s and will continue to expand its dealer network and its lines of revolvers and 1911 pistols.

“At the end of the day, we believe it is good sense to follow consumer demand and to adjust as market dynamics change. Colt has been a stout supporter of the Second Amendment for over 180 years, remains so, and will continue to provide its customers with the finest quality firearms in the world,” states president and CEO Dennis Veilleux in a news release positioned as a “response to questions about Colt participation in consumer markets.”

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The West Hartford, Connecticut-based Colt, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015 citing the loss of key military business, says it will focus on the police and military markets -- at least for now -- for its AR-15 sales. It emerged from Chapter 11 in 2016. 

“Colt’s current lineup of rifles is all based entirely on the AR platform,” Military Times’ Ian D’Costa wrote six days ago in running down a post  by Dan Zimmerman in The Truth About Guns breaking the news that Colt was exiting the consumer market.

“Colt made waves in the long gun market in the 1960s after buying the design and trademarks associated with ArmaLite’s select-fire AR-15 and AR-10 rifles, the former of which was adopted by the U.S. military as the M16 assault rifle. 

“By the mid-1960s, Colt began selling a semi-automatic version, dubbed the Colt AR-15, to the civilian market, and the rifle began steadily ascending in popularity among a variety of consumers, from recreational shooters, hunters, and law enforcement,” D’Costa continues.

“Several other companies make the AR-15-style guns, including Palmetto State Armory and Smith and Wesson. The type of firearm has come under scrutiny because it’s the weapon of choice for mass shooters. The gunmen in the Aurora, Las Vegas and Dayton shootings, among many others, used AR-15-style weapons,” Jordan Valinsky writes  for CNN Business.

“In the past few years, major retailers across the country have curbed or discontinued gun sales -- pressed by public outcry but also by competition from local firearm stores and online retailers,” Reis Thebault writes  for The Washington Post.

“In 2015, Walmart stopped selling the AR-15 and other semiautomatic weapons. And in early September -- after two deadly shootings inside its stores this summer -- the retail giant announced that it would stop selling ammunition for military-style weapons, and it asked customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores.

“Last year, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-style weapons, and in March the retailer announced that it would pull all guns and ammunition off the shelves of nearly 20% of its stores,” Thebault adds.

Timothy D. Lytton, an expert on the gun industry at Georgia State University, tells The New York Times’ David Yaffe-Bellany that while Colt framed its decision as based on economics, public pressure may have influenced the company, noting that’s headquarters are not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“The mass shootings are probably making the company a little bit brand-sensitive,” Lytton says. “They’re probably feeling a kind of pressure or heat that manufacturers in other parts of the country may not be.”

“A number of Democratic lawmakers have called for banning AR-15 style rifles and other semiautomatic rifles,” Alexander Gladstone writes for The Wall Street Journal.

“A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently met with President Trump to discuss expanding background checks during gun sales, The Wall Street Journal reported. However, in an interview with Fox News Thursday, Mr. Trump said negotiations are going very slowly.

“‘No, we’re not moving on anything. We’re going very slowly in one way, because we want to make sure it’s right,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘We’re working with the Democrats, we’re working with Republicans.’” 

In fact, demand for guns is rising again, perhaps because of the increasing outcry for stricter licensing requirements to curb gun violence and mass shootings.

“FBI statistics show more than 2.3 million people applied for background checks to purchase guns in August, up from just over 1.8 million in July. Those applications, the best available statistic for tracking gun sales, have been rising steadily, with a slight decline after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, something called the ‘Trump slump,’” the AP’s Pat Eaton-Robb reports.

Gun sales usually go up when guy buyers feel their access is being threatened, Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law tells Eaton-Robb.

“Given these sales and the history of Colt being a completely disorganized, dysfunctional company that goes into bankruptcy and can’t keep anything going properly, my assumption is that this is a business decision that is being driven by their own business problems,” Winkler says.

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