Why Colt Bit the Bullet and Hung Up Its Holster

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Even if the NRA musters the political support to hold the gun control lobby at bay, it’s unlikely to find the money to keep Colt in the retail handgun business. The manufacturer whose legendary "peacemaker" cleaned up the Wild West is reportedly planning to quit the business in the face of a rising tide of lawsuits against gun manufacturers. According to published reports, the company will continue to supply rifles to the U.S. military and handguns to law-enforcement agencies, but will withdraw most of its product lines from retail markets. "This is a dramatic illustration of the power of the product liability lawsuits brought against the gun industry," says TIME correspondent Adam Cohen. "Colt has been in this business for a long time and probably wouldn’t like to abandon it, but the lawsuits make staying in retail handguns run counter to the company’s financial interests. This is a classic case of how the tort system is supposed to work, by restraining a company from doing something juries consider unsafe – even if it’s legal – by making it economically unviable."

The decision will be taken as a breakthrough for gun control advocates, who have combined efforts to pass legislation with a series of product liability suits nationwide. Although high-profile shooting incidents such as the Columbine High School massacre have made public opinion more favorable to gun control measures, the gun-rights lobby maintains sufficient support on Capitol Hill to hold the line. But the NRA may be unable to protect gun manufacturers from the financial hemorrhage brought on by multiple lawsuits. And in the end, the manufacture and supply of guns is a business like any other.