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There are so many AR-15s in U.S. consumer hands that it makes no sense to produce more, Colt says

AR-15 rifles on display in 2012 at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Colt, a U.S. firearms company that traces its history to the 1830s, announced Thursday that it would suspend the production of rifles for the civilian market — including the AR-15, a weapon infamous for its popularity among the country’s mass shooters.

There are already so many of the weapons in the country that the market is saturated and executives decided “it is good sense to follow consumer demand,” the manufacturer’s president and chief executive said in a statement.

“Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future,” Dennis Veilleux said, adding that the pivot was not permanent.

The AR-15 and its many variants are popular among gun owners, and they have been used in several mass shootings. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

The announcement comes at the tail end of a summer bookended by mass shootings in Virginia Beach; El Paso; Dayton, Ohio; and West Texas and as Democratic candidates for president have ratcheted up rhetoric on gun control.

At the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate, former congressman Beto O’Rourke said he is committed to a mandatory buyback of assault-style rifles.

“When we see that being used against children,” he said, “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

Veilleux said his company remains a fierce advocate for gun rights and for the consumer gun market.

“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,” he said.

The company will concentrate on its military and law enforcement contracts, which Veilleux said are “absorbing all of Colt’s manufacturing capacity for rifles.”

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.

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.

Family members gathered Aug. 7 to share memories of Raul and Maria Flores, who were both killed when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso days earlier. (Video: Drea Cornejo, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

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 percent of its stores.

An article in the National Rifle Association’s Shooting Illustrated last week foreshadowed Colt’s shift. Paul Spitale, Colt’s senior vice president for commercial business, told the publication that his company had seen “a pretty sharp decline in rifle sales” and a “significant inventory buildup by our distributors.”

“We listen to our customers,” Spitale said. “The whole basis for our reorganization was consumer feedback. ... It’s not forever.”

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