Giant gun company Colt has announced it is ceasing production of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used in the Christchurch mosque attacks and other mass shootings.

The company says it is suspending production of the firearms, acknowledging there are already too many of the guns in the market for sale.

Colt has made the weapons since 1959. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the US within the broader total of the 300 million firearms owned by Americans.

The New York Times had described the semi-automatic rifle as one of the "most beloved and most vilified rifles" in the United States.

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The accused Christchurch mosque gunman was armed with several firearms, including an AR-15, which he had allegedly practised with at a South Otago rifle club. The firearm was bought legally.

AR-15 rifles have been used in some of the worst mass shootings in the United States, including the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 that claimed 58 lives and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed 27 lives.

Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows MPs an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons the accused Christchurch gunman allegedly used.
Police acting superintendent Mike McIlraith shows MPs an AR-15 style rifle similar to one of the weapons the accused Christchurch gunman allegedly used.

The bullets fired by an AR-15 travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body.

Before the Government's gun crackdown in response to the mosque shootings anyone with a standard firearms licence could own an AR-15 in New Zealand but there were limits on the way they could be configured.

The AR-15 was also among the firearms used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children between 6 and 7, and six adult staff members.

In a statement today Colt president Dennis Veilleux confirmed production would cease on AR-15s.

"We want to assure you that Colt is committed to the Second Amendment, highly values its customers and continues to manufacture the world's finest quality firearms for the consumer market," he said.

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"The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity. Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future.

"On the other hand, our warfighters and law enforcement personnel continue to demand Colt rifles and we are fortunate enough to have been awarded significant military and law enforcement contracts. Currently, these high-volume contracts are absorbing all of Colt's manufacturing capacity for rifles. Colt's commitment to the consumer markets, however, is unwavering.

"We continue to expand our network of dealers across the country and to supply them with expanding lines of the finest quality 1911s and revolvers."