A subsidiary of Czech firearms manufacturer CZG, Colt manufactures firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories for military, law enforcement, and immigration authorities around the world.
Note: This company profile was written as part of AFSC's 2022 report Equipped for War: Exposing Militarized Policing in California.
Colt's Manufacturing Company, LLC is a firearms manufacturer based in Hartford, Connecticut, and owned by Czech firearms manufacturer Česká Zbrojovka Group. Founded in 1855 to supply revolvers to the U.S. Army, it is one of the world's oldest and most recognizable gun makers for the military, law enforcement, and commercial markets. Colt, led by CEO Dennis Veilleux, employs 160 people and generates an estimated $121.46 million in annual revenue.
In 2021, Česká Zbrojovka Group SE (CZG), which is traded on the Prague Stock Exchange, acquired Colt for $222 million. The acquisition was financed, in part, by CZG's initial public offering of its shares in October 2020, from which it raised approximately $34.4 million. In 2021, CZG reported that its consolidation of Colt was the main driver of its 138.5% and 29.6% revenue increases from sales in the Czech Republic and the U.S., respectively. The combined company is expected to generate more than $500 million in annual revenue.
Colt manufactures and sells a wide range of firearms (pistols, revolvers, rifles, and machine guns), ammunition, and tactical accessories. In particular, the company markets various configurations of AR-15 rifles and semi-automatic M4 rifles—for example, the M4 Commando, M4 Carbine, M4 Carbine EPR, M4 Carbine Magpul SL, and Enhanced Patrol Rifle—to law enforcement and military agencies. There are a few differences between the AR-15 and M4. Most notably, the M4 can be fired in either a three-round burst or full automatic mode, while the AR-15 is semi-automatic. The M4 can also be mounted with a grenade launcher due to the design of its barrel. In addition to these firearms, Colt also markets its 9mm Submachine Gun (SMG) to law enforcement and military personnel. According to the company, the hyper-militarized weapon is "exceptionally well suited for military, paramilitary, and Law Enforcement organizations."
Colt markets its wide range of firearms, ammunition, and tactical accessories to the U.S. military, NATO forces, and other militaries around the world. Between 2008 and 2022, Colt supplied Department of Defense (DOD) agencies with $733.9 million worth of rifles and machine guns. The company's contracts with the DOD account for 93% of its overall federal contracts. On its website, the company boasts that it stands "shoulder to shoulder with the United States military and continues to evolve in order to safeguard today's warfighters."
Colt extends this military ethos to U.S. policing by selling military-style firearms, training courses, and other "LE [law enforcement] Products" to state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. 37 of the California law enforcement agencies that responded to our public records requests have spent a combined $2.1 million on Colt firearms and/or training courses, mainly from police weapons and equipment distributors such as Adamson Police Products and LC Action Police Supply. These police departments commonly purchased the M4 Commando, M4 Carbine, M4 Carbine EPR, M4 Carbine Magpul SL, and Enhanced Patrol Rifle. Between 2019 and 2020, for example, Kern County Sheriff's Office purchased 200 Colt M4 Commando guns from law enforcement equipment distributor LC Action Police Supply. Many of these firearms are listed as "military classics" on Colt's website.
Colt weapons have been connected to the increasing militarization of police presence at protests and to related police killings. For example, in California, the Vallejo police officer who killed unarmed Sean Monterrosa at a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest used a Colt M4 Commando. In New York City, the NYPD Strategic Response Group, a heavily militarized rapid-response unit also known as NYPD's "goon squad," arms its several hundred officers with M4 rifles. In 2021, the unit "was deployed against Black Lives Matter protestors" following the police killing of George Floyd.
Colt AR-15 assault rifles, first introduced by the company in the early 1960s, have been used to carry out numerous mass shootings in the U.S., including the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people, and the 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting that left 60 people dead. Lawsuits filed in the wake of the Pittsburgh and Las Vegas shootings allege that Colt designs its rifles in a way that allows them to be easily modified to fire like automatic weapons, "'in order to substantially increase the body count during a mass shooting.'" In September 2019, Colt announced that it would suspend sales of its AR-15 rifles to the public, in a shift it attributed to a market already saturated with similar weapons and a desire to focus on fulfilling outstanding contracts with law enforcement and military customers. In June 2020, Colt reportedly reversed its decision and resumed selling AR-15s to commercial customers.
In addition to contributing to the militarization of police departments throughout the U.S., Colt has also supplied its firearms to U.S. immigration enforcement agencies. Between 2008 and 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) awarded Colt contracts for $13.9 million worth of M4 rifles, weapons parts, ammunition, and accessories.
Colt has also contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Between 2008 and 2022, the BOP purchased just over $470,565 worth of M4 and M16 firearms, parts, magazines, and accessories directly from the company. From 2008 to 2019, the federal agency also purchased at least another $102,833 worth of Colt firearms, munition, and miscellaneous weapons parts from privately-owned law enforcement supply companies, such as Arms Unlimited, Clyde Armory, and Kiesler Police Supply.
Outside of the U.S., Colt M16 rifles were previously used by the Israeli military from the 1990s to 2012. In 2012, media sources in Israel reported that the military's M16s would be replaced by Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles and retired to "rear echelon service units, police, militia, and for other miscellaneous security purposes."