Few gun stores in the Salt Lake area had any AR-15s - the civilian model of the military's M16 assault rifle - in stock on Thursday when the gun's manufacturer, Colt Industries, announced it will halt the sale of the firearm to civilians.

And in light of Colt's announcement, local gun store owners are doubtful they'll get any more of the weapons to sell.Colt Industries spokesmen said the company's decision was made because Colt wants to comply with the spirit of the government action this week banning the importation of assault rifles from abroad.

Federal drug czar William Bennett issued the ban on such weapons. But despite mounting pressure to move swiftly against the growing scourge of drug-related violence, President Bush has opposed proposals for outright bans of the powerful guns that critics say have become the preferred weapons of drug dealers and gangmembers.

Colt will still sell its AR-15s to police and government agencies.

A Salt Lake gun dealer who said he had five AR-15s on order said he called his distributor Thursday and was told he may not even get the rifles he ordered a month ago. The guns retail for about $700.

Another gun dealer said he believes the Colt announcement is merely hype since Colt no longer has the contract to build M16s (the fully automatic version of the rifle) for the military. The dealer said FN of Belgium, which owns Browning, now has the contract and "it's no skin off Colt's nose if they stop making AR-15s. They probably want to give their workers a rest - or a layoff."

One gun dealer said Colt probably has stockpiles of AR-15s and may rescind their decision not to sell the guns after a while and start shipping them out again "at a much higher price."

Most of the gun dealers the Deseret News talked with about Colt's decision were not only unhappy with Colt but unhappy about the government's decision to ban assault rifles, not so much because it will dry up the importation of AK-47s and other rifles but because of constitutional reasons.

One of Salt Lake's largest gun sellers told the Deseret News he sells only about 40 assault rifles a year. "If I had to depend on the sale of 40 rifles for my livelihood, I wouldn't be in business. So-called assault rifles are no big deal for me, but I think all the furor over them is silly."

Ruger, which makes assault-type rifles in various calibers, has made no announcement about whether it will continue to make or sell its guns to the public.

That company's semiautomatic rifles sell for about half the price of Colt's AR-15s, and some gun salesmen said the ban by Colt and the government may boost the sale of Rugers and other companies' semi-automatic rifles.