Washington (AFP) - Legendary US gun manufacturer Colt has said it will no longer produce the AR-15, blaming market forces rather than the semi-automatic rifle's role in some of the country's worst mass shootings.
"Over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity," said the company's chief executive Dennis Veilleux in a statement released on Thursday.
For that reason, "we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future," he said, noting that his firm would continue to make assault rifles for the US military and law enforcement agencies, as well as its world-famous revolvers.
Veilleux did not mention the AR-15's popularity among the country's mass shooters who have killed hundreds of civilians in gun rampages, nor the increasing calls for curbs on the lethal weapon in the hands of civilians.
"Colt is committed to the Second Amendment" of the US Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, he said.
Colt was the first US gun-maker to put a semi-automatic rifle based on the military's M-13 on the civilian market.
The AR-15 has since become a generic term for that type of rifle, popular among hunters and gun enthusiasts across the United States.
But the AR-15 has also been used in some of the worst massacres in recent US history, including the 2012 shooting at Sandyhook elementary school in Connecticut, where 26 people were killed, 20 of them small children, as well as in the 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida, which left 17 dead.
After a summer which saw back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, there has been a growing call for a ban on assault rifles, similar to one imposed by Congress between 1994 and 2004.
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, whose Texas hometown of El Paso was the target of a recent mass shooting, said in a debate this month, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."
That comment provoked angry responses from the National Rifle Association (NRA) while a Texas Republican lawmaker made an apparent death threat against O'Rourke, tweeting, "My AR is ready for you Robert Francis."
While every mass shooting revives the debate on gun control in the United States, no significant measures have been take to tackle the problem so far, in large part because of the lobbying power of the well-funded NRA.
But some companies have taken their own action, including the retail giant Walmart, which stopped selling the AR-15 in 2015 and which also halted sales of ammunition for semi-automatic weapons after the El Paso shooter killed 22 people in one of its stores in August.