Back in the 199os, it seemed that the forces of gun control were on the march and that it was only a matter of time before the Second Amendment would cease to exist as part of the Constitution.
In addition to banning 'assault weapons,' the Clinton administration was aggressively urging municipalities and even individual to file lawsuits against firearms manufacturers seeking damages for crimes committed with their otherwise lawfully produced products.
By any measure the legal reasoning was a stretch, akin to suing Ford for liability in a hit and run involving one of their trucks. Victory wasn't likely in these court cases, but like so many leftist tactics, the process itself was the punishment.
Fearful of rising legal costs, many of the larger (and therefore more high-profile) manufacturers sought to avoid liability. Smith and Wesson infamously sought a concordat with Clinton administration, hoping to make up their losses in the civilian market with government contracts.
The problem was that the promised preferences never emerged due to strict procurement rules. At the same time, gun enthusiasts were outraged by the cowardice shown by Smith and Wesson and launched a boycott. Thought S&W got a lot of positive press and statements from the gun control crowd, none of them were going to buy guns, so S&W ended up totally screwed.
The British ownership sold their interest in the company at a steep loss and the new management reversed course, introducing the .500 Magnum and restoring the Smith and Wesson name to its former glory.
Colt took a different path. The Colt name is arguably the most prestigious among American gun makers, partly because Colt has throughout its long history managed to maintain excellent records of its production. This makes it easy to verify the provenance of old firearms and in turn causes Colts to be highly collectible. They are also excellent products.
Colt also had a number of military contracts to rely on, so the company decided to pull out of the main civilian market and focus on military sales while also running a side business very expensive, highly collectible firearms - basically the luxury market.
The theory was that this would eliminate their liability because with a starting price of $1,000, no one could credibly claim Colt was "flooding the streets" with cheap guns.
The problem with this strategy was that it was both short-sighted and self-limiting. It was short-sighted because it assumed the political climate regarding guns was fixed, which it wasn't. It was self-limiting because military firearms sales have a natural cap, even during wartime.
For a time, though, it seemed like a good move, particularly when the Iraq war was at its height. After 2009, defense prospects turned south and the luxury market could not make up the difference.
Thus while the rest of the gun industry was enjoying one of the best periods of growth in history, Colt was driven into bankruptcy.
Last month Colt emerged and plans to re-enter the larger civilian market:
Colt is taking the pulse of consumers at this week’s Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas, where guns, hunting gear and tactical accessories are on display. Earlier this month, Colt announced several new models for 2016 such as the Colt Competition Pistol, which borrows a durable dual spring system used in the company’s M45A1 Close Quarter Battle Pistol developed for the Marine Corps. Also new is the Expanse M4, an AR-15 at a lower price point for Colt. The Expanse M4 has a suggested retail price of $699.
I'm mildly interested in the M4, but I think if Colt is to flourish they need to look at the market for small, personal defense weapons. Women are a growing segment of the firearms market and a .38o with both the Colt name and reputation for quality could do quite well. Let's face it: Women like buying the label and Colt has a great one.
Long-time readers know that one of my prized possessions is a Colt King Cobra from the 1990s and I'm amazed at how much it has increased in value. Since I have no interest in selling it, I'm willing to see it depreciate a little if it means I can add some more Colts to my collection.