Slate has discovered that firearms can have useful lives measured in decades, if not hundreds of years. And that the millions of civilian owned AR-15 rifles — to say nothing of the hundreds of millions of firearms of all kinds — in the United States aren’t going anywhere.
Colt has emphasized the economic calculations behind its 2019 decision: Supply, it says, has outpaced demand. Perhaps mindful of how gun rights advocates reacted back in 1989, the company has also emphasized its continuing commitment to upholding the second amendment. This has not prevented advocates for stronger gun control legislation from suggesting Colt is responding to the brand damage created by the AR-15’s deployment in school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2017.
Whatever its motivation, Colt’s decision has material as well as moral and political dimensions. It offers impetus to think about history, scale, and the long-term consequences of individual decisions about business and security. American ingenuity and industrial capacity in the 19th century kick-started an arms race among the countries of Europe. Eventually, those arms fell into the hands of individuals in North Africa, the Balkans, and elsewhere, as they decided their governments lacked the will or capacity to defend their citizens. They opted to take on that role by arming themselves with military-grade technology.
At the start of the 21st century, it is American civilians who are up-arming, preparing to fight one another and any government, including their own, that intrudes on their cherished ideas of autonomy. They look to secure themselves against all comers, and in so doing, put themselves and their fellow citizens at greater risk of gun-related injury or death than in any other industrialized nation.
– Keith Brown in What a 150-Year-Old Gun Tells Us About the End of Colt’s AR-15