Colt Manufacturing Company has begun to sell its popular AR-15 modern sporting rifle to civilians again. In June, the company did a complete 180-degree turn after it had exited the civilian market for modern sporting rifles last September.
At that time, the company announced via a statement from its president and CEO Dennis Veilleux, “the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity. Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future.”
However, Colt Manufacturing, which was founded by Samuel Colt in 1855 and remains the consumer-facing brand, also reaffirmed at the time that Colt Defense would be committed to the production for the military and law enforcement market.
“Our warfighters and law enforcement personnel continue to demand Colt rifles and we are fortunate enough to have been awarded significant military and law enforcement contracts,” Veilleux added. “Currently, these high-volume contracts are absorbing all of Colt’s manufacturing capacity for rifles. Colt’s commitment to the consumer markets, however, is unwavering.”
Colt’s sudden exit from the market last year came as firearms sales had slumped, while the AR-15—which Colt didn’t actually design but bought the rights to produce from Armalite in the 1960s—had been in the spotlight after several high profile mass shootings. Even as Colt had set the standard for excellence, it had also become a highly competitive market with plenty of options for consumers.
Yet Colt may have “misread the tea leaves” by exiting so suddenly.
While its focus was on military and law enforcement contracts, those aren’t typically open-ended. Moreover, given the uncertain political climate and a likely chance of a Joe Biden presidency—which could certainly drive sales—Colt may have made a wise move to re-enter the market.
Then there is the fact that the novel coronavirus, a month-long period of riots and calls to “defund the police” have seen sales for civilian small arms reach record levels this year, notably among first-time buyers. The American firearms industry as a whole has ramped up production, but demand has continued to exceed supply.
That, in turn, has only driven up the price, especially for the modern sporting rifles.
As the NRA’s American Rifleman reported, “In one case, a carbine that went for $699 last fall, fetched double that—and its new owner was happy to get it at all. Add in the fact that Remington Outdoor had chosen to focus on its ‘core brands,’ Marlin and Remington, leaving Bushmaster and DPMS dormant for the moment, and the price required by Colt for its carbines is far more competitive.”
Colt’s senior vice president for commercial business Paul Spitale also told the NRA publication, “When conditions changed, and we were able to re-enter the market we did.”
The company re-entered quickly and has subsequently shipped more than 2,000 Colt LE6920S to commercial firearms retailers to meet some of the demand. Samuel Colt, who was always far more of a businessman than actual gun designer, is likely looking down and smiling!
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.