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Why Cops and Soldiers Fell Out of Love with Colt Guns

U.S. soldiers and law enforcement are moving away from an iconic American weapons brand.

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Colt guns may have won the West. But they aren’t sufficient for winning modern wars, and now the iconic American weapons-maker, which has been making arms since the 19th century, has filed for bankruptcy.

In 2013, the Pentagon decided Colt’s M4 rifles weren’t up to snuff and awarded a key $77 million contract to supply the Army with rifles to F.N. Herstal, a weapons-maker based in Belgium. The Belgian guns allow soldiers to fire continuously; the Colt weapon fires in three-round bursts.

The loss of the DoD business, combined with the decreasing demand for guns after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, raise serious questions about whether Colt can raise the $350 million it needs to pay off its debt.

For their part, law enforcement officers are increasingly turning to Glock pistols as a sidearm, as opposed to Colt’s 1911 gun. This is because many believe the Glock to be a more reliable pistol; there is a long record of complaints about the Colt gun jamming.

If this is the end of the road for Colt, it had one heck of a run. The company has been around for 179 years and was the first to develop weapons that could fire multiple times without reloading. Its “Peacemaker” revolver was ubiquitous as the United States tried to tame the Wild West in the 19th century. They were even carried by the famed Texas Rangers.

It also holds a seminal place in American pop culture. When John Wayne appeared on the movie screen as a cowboy, he was likely holding a Colt. Tom Hanks carried a Colt gun in Saving Private Ryan. Even British super spy James Bond occasionally used the American icon.

But its storied history, both in real life and fiction, won’t be enough to save the company. Even the Rangers have abandoned the gun for Sig Sauer pistols. And the company was not able to take advantage of the demand for weapons that surged after President Barack Obama took office.

“I don’t know what it is about them — they just can’t get their act together,” Paul Jannuzzo, who headed Glock’s U.S. operations in the 1990s, told Bloomberg.

Photo credit: Karen Bleier/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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