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Sunday, October 10, 1999 Published at 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK

World: Americas

Colt 'to quit handgun market'

The right to bear arms is enshrined in the US Constitution

One of the oldest names in the United States arms industry, Colt, is reported to be planning to withdraw from the consumer gun market because of the threat of law suits.

Newsweek magazine's Monday edition says that Colt would virtually withdraw from this part of the firearms business by the end of October.

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  • The company is said to be preparing to lay off 300 of the 700 union workers at its plant at Hartford in Connecticut and will in future focus on manufacturing military and collectible guns.

    "We have to focus on what we know we can make money on, without taking that risk," a Colt executive was quoted as saying.

    "It's extremely painful when you have to withdraw from a business for irrational reasons."

    Legal challenge mounts

    BBC's Philippa Thomas: "The aim is to limit liabilities in the mass of lawsuits"
    There are growing numbers of lawsuits against gunmakers brought by victims of shootings and cities suing to have the cost of gun-related crimes paid for.

    So far, 29 US cities have begun legal action against the industry.

    [ image:  ]
    On 29 September, an appeals court in California court became the first to allow a gunmaker to be sued for a criminal shooting.

    According to the magazine, Colt has decided to pull out of the handgun business because the company is having trouble paying its dealers and does not want to face possible costly lawsuits.

    Colt was among eight firms named in a lawsuit filed last month by the city of Wilmington, Delaware.

    Sam Colt's invention

    The BBC's Gavin Hewitt: "America is as confused as ever about what to do about its guns"
    The company that grew out of Sam Colt's 1830s invention of a firearm capable of firing without reloading, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1992, but emerged from bankruptcy in 1994 when a new group of investors purchased the firm.

    In the past two years, Colt has received several significant government contracts, including an order for more than 32,000 M-16 rifles.

    A recently established subsidiary, iColt, is planning next year to market a "smart gun" that can only be fired by the gun's owner.

    Gun manufacturers have argued in the many cases they have faced that they are not responsible for what consumers do with their products.

    The tobacco companies used a similar argument when individual states sued them for the costs of treating smoking-related diseases.

    Those law suits resulted in a $206bn settlement against the industry last year.

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