WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gun-maker Colt is suspending its production of rifles for the civilian market including the popular AR-15, the company said Thursday in a shift it attributed to changes in consumer demand and a market already saturated with similar weapons. The company said it will focus instead on fulfilling contracts with military and police customers for rifles.
"The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity," Colt's chief executive officer, Dennis Veilleux, said in a written statement. "Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future."
Veilleux said the company, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2016, remains committed to the Second Amendment. He said the company is expanding its lines of pistols and revolvers. Despite a national debate on gun control, Colt's decision seems driven by business considerations rather than politics, said Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.
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 from tracking gun sales, has have been rising steadily, with a slight decline after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, something called the "Trump slump."
Gun sales usually go up when guy buyers feel their access to such weapons are being threatened, Winkler said. "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," he said.
Still, Winkler said the company's decision risks alienating and angering its remaining customer base. "We've seen in the past that when gun manufacturers are viewed to have given in to gun-safety advocates, gun owners will boycott them and really hurt their business," he said. "If they think a company like Colt is disrespecting their identity or giving in to the other side, Colt's likely going to see serious damage to its other firearms brands too."
The debate on gun control has focused in particular on assault-style rifles like AR-15s that have been used in mass shootings. Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, whose hometown of El Paso was the site of a shooting in August left 22 people dead, has been pushing for mandatory rifle buybacks over the last few weeks.
"Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we're not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore," O'Rourke, a said during a Democratic presidential debate this month.
The parents of a young woman killed in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre filed a wrongful death lawsuit in July against Colt and seven other gun manufacturers, along with gun shops in Nevada and Utah, arguing their weapons are designed to be easily modified to fire like automatic weapons. In Connecticut, gun-maker Remington is facing a lawsuit involving liability for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used to kill 20 first graders and six educators on December 14, 2012.
Associated Press Writer Lisa Marie Pane contributed to this story from Boise, Idaho.