Colt Is Coming Out Of Bankruptcy As Democrats Move To Ban Its Iconic Rifle

Washington state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, fires her Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at the annual “Legislative Shootout” at the Evergreen Sportsmen’s Club in Olympia, Wash. The event, organized by Roach, featured rifle, shotgun, and pistol competitions for members of the legislature, staff members, and guests. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Colt has announced it is moving out of Chapter 11. Given the current political climate with the AR-15, this brings to mind Dickens’ unforgettable lead to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” and it was the epoch of freedom and the season of political demagoguery.

Here we have Colt Defense LLC, a company that led the way into America’s Industrial Revolution, whose iconic revolvers won the West, and whose AR-15 has benefited our soldiers and citizens since the early 1960s, coming out of bankruptcy to find Democrats again attempting to outlaw the ever-popular AR-15.

Colt says the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware is letting it transition out of bankruptcy. “Upon completion of the restructuring process, which is expected to occur in the coming weeks,” Colt say it will have “significantly” reduced “the Company’s debt” and “enhance[d] its liquidity profile.” Colt will have a new lease for its West Hartford facility and a “strong relationship” with the United Auto Workers Union.

Dennis Veilleux, president and CEO of Colt Defense LLC, said, “Today we achieved the last important milestone on Colt’s path to emerging from Chapter 11 as a stronger and more competitive company. We greatly appreciate the dedication and support of our extraordinary employees during this process, as well as the support we received from our financial stakeholders, Sciens Capital and our customers and vendors.”

Meanwhile, a group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced legislation calling for a ban on “assault rifles” they categorize as “weapons of war.” They say the millions of American citizens who currently own AR-15s would be “allowed to keep them” but “could face challenges reselling them.”

If they want to ban and confiscate this very popular semiautomatic rifle, they should say so and have that fight. Instead, they’ve chosen to call these rifles “weapons of war” in an effort to garner public support. The trouble for them is the public has become well educated on this topic. If this group of Democrats really wants to help make this is a safer nation they should work with law-abiding gun owners instead of treating them asthe problem; after all, America’s 100-million-plus gun owners also don’t want terrorists, gang members, and madmen to be armed.

These Democrats should be aware that the number of people shot and killed with semiautomatic “assault weapons” didn’t change appreciably during the 10-year period (1994-2004) that those firearms were banned from being sold. Also, according to FBI crime statistics, murderers used rifles just 2.5% of the time in 2011. AR-15-type rifles make up an even smaller fraction of that percentage. Almost four times more murderers used knives (323 used rifles whereas 1,694 used knives or another sharp object in 2011) to kill someone.

Actually, the true story behind the invention of this class of firearms is very American.

The AR-15, and its offspring the M16, got their start in an American aeronautics company. Some smart engineers wanted to use new materials and technology to make guns for the public. In 1953, George Sullivan convinced the Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation to create a new division that would invent gun designs by utilizing new materials and manufacturing processes then being perfected for airplanes. Sullivan named the Fairchild subsidiary “ArmaLite.” The division became known as “George’s Backyard Garage” and was located in Hollywood, California. The idea was that Sullivan would create gun prototypes by utilizing lightweight, modern alloys and plastics the company would then license to firearms manufacturers. The initial plan was to produce sporting firearms for the commercial market. They hoped that some of the concepts would eventually be used by the military. But shortly after Fairchild established its ArmaLite division, ArmaLite was invited to submit a rifle to the U.S. Air Force as a replacement for the then-standard survival rifle. ArmaLite submitted the AR-5, a .22 Hornet survival rifle that they said “floated” for Air Force evaluation. The AR-5 was adopted and designated the MA-1 Survival Rifle, but few were made as the gun fell out of favor.

Nevertheless, the initial success with the AR-5 led Fairchild to reverse strategy and focus on the military market. The decision to forgo the average consumer for the military would turn out to be a great miscalculation. But at the time Fairchild was flush with revenue from other parts of its vast business. For a while this enabled Sullivan to experiment freely without worrying about making a profit.

As he developed new gun designs, Sullivan would bring his experimental firearms to the Topanga Canyon Shooting Range for testing. This led to a fortuitous meeting that would change the future of the gun. At the range Sullivan happened to see Eugene Stoner, a former U.S. Marine who had served in Aviation Ordnance during WWII, shooting what looked to be a homemade rifle. Stoner was then a design engineer making dental plates. Sullivan and Stoner started talking. Before long Stoner joined Sullivan’s team as chief engineer for ArmaLite.


In 1955 ArmaLite submitted a gun design, the AR-10, devised by Stoner but based on Sullivan’s concepts using anodized aluminum, a plastic butt stock, and other materials, to the U.S. Army. The Army was then searching for a new service rifle. The AR-10 looked cosmetically like what would later be the AR-15 and then M16, but the AR-10 used the larger 7.62 mm chambering, a .30-caliber cartridge used by NATO. The chambering wasn’t novel, but the AR-10 was a modern rifle, a new rifle for an age with molded plastic cups, dashboards, and toothbrushes. It was a modular looking rifle with a carry handle on top that utilized space-age materials.

The AR-10 didn’t win a military contract; however, in 1955, U.S. Army Colonel Henry Neilsen and General Willard Wyman got together and discussed the possibility of the AR-10 being chambered in a lighter caliber to truly make it a rifle for the future. Both were intrigued with the potential of this new rifle design. So intrigued that in 1956 both Neilsen and Wyman visited Stoner at ArmaLite to discuss the idea of chambering the AR-10 in a cartridge that would shoot a .22-caliber, 55-grain bullet at 3,250 feet per second at the muzzle.

Stoner went to work and soon developed the AR-15, a lighter, 5.56 mm version of the AR-10. After more machinations from the military’s bureaucracy, and after ArmaLite’s parent company, Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Corporation, hit hard times financially, a decision was made to unload ArmaLite. In January of 1959 the AR-15’s design and manufacturing rights were sold to Colt for the rock-bottom price of $75,000 and a 4.5 percent royalty on future sales.

Colt’s experienced firearms engineers went to work and quickly tweaked the AR-15’s design. Colt then started a public-relations campaign that knocked the U.S. Military’s M14 for being too old school as they talked-up the benefits of the lighter AR-15. The AR-15, with its lighter .223-caliber round, gave an infantryman the ability to carry as many as three times the amount of ammo as a soldier carrying an M14 chambered in .308 Winchester. The original AR-15 also weighed less than 6 pounds without a magazine, whereas the M14 weighed on average 9.2 pounds when empty.

In 1963 the U.S. military finally ordered 85,000 AR-15s for the Army and 19,000 for the Air Force. On July 1, 1964 the U.S. military ceased production of the M14. Soon the full-auto military version of the AR-15 was dubbed the M16. It would become the iconic gun of the Vietnam War.

Colt had already begun selling semiautomatic AR-15s to U.S. consumers in 1963. The November 1964 issue of American Rifleman reported, “A semi-automatic model of the Colt AR-15 cal. .223 (5.56 mm.) automatic rifle is now offered by Colt’s. Designated Colt AR-15 Sporter, it is made for semi-automatic use only, its magazine has a removable spacer which limits capacity to 5 rounds, and its bolt carrier assembly has a Parco-Lubrite finish. In other respects, it is the same as the AR-15 automatic military rifle produced by Colt’s for the Army and Air Force.”

Fast forward to today and we find American gun enthusiasts in an AR craze. According to the research firm Southwick Associates, Inc., in 2012 one in five rifles sold was chambered in .223—most of these are AR-15-type rifles. Today the AR-15 and its variations are manufactured by a long and growing list of companies. AR’s are popular with civilians and law enforcement around the world because they’re accurate, light, portable, and modular. Its design also allows it to be accessorized. A civilian can buy after-market sights, vertical forward grips, lighting systems, night-vision devices, laser-targeting devices, muzzle brakes/flash hiders, bipods, and more. In this way this rifle platform is more versatile than any other rifle. It’s also easy to shoot and has little recoil, making it popular with women.

Like the lever-action, bolt-action, and other semiautomatics, the AR-15 is just another example of a firearm type that is both used by U.S. citizens and soldiers. This connection is a fundamental part of American freedom. (For the full story see my book The Future of the Gun.)

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