The District of Columbia lawmakers make it as hard as possible for law-abiding citizens to own guns. So I was quite amazed to learn that Beretta USA’s factory is just thirty minutes outside the city.
Recently, the company invited me to visit them to observe the manufacturing process and shoot some of their guns.
There are magnetometers at the entrance of the enormous facility, but visitors are directed to walk around them on the way in.
This was the only place I’d ever been where you only go through a metal detector on the way out (to prevent stealing the guns, I later learned.)
There are 230 locals working at this plant, making it the biggest employer in the area.
Though this is House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer’s district (NRA rating: F), the company has said he’s been supportive of their business.
And it’s a business with a long and interesting history. Beretta is the oldest family-owned manufacturing company in the world. It was founded in Italy in 1526, when it made canons to fight the Ottomans.
Since 1985, the company’s plant in Southern Maryland had been making the M9 pistol — the standard-issue sidearm for all five branches of the military.
In recent years, with gun control measures on the rise from the Obama and Clinton administrations, domestic production of guns is on the rise as foreign manufacturers find it easier to move here and set up shop
There weren’t that many people in the main part of the manufacturing plant.
This facility is as modern as they come, with large, fully automated machines that can turn a steel bar into a slide (see photos below).
We watched machines spit out steel and aluminum frames, slides, barrels and magazines by the thousands.
The approximately 50 parts in, for example, the M9 are all created from raw metal.
Beretta employees then take these parts and assemble each pistol. Each part undergoes nearly microscopic scrutiny at each step of the process, to ensure there are no defects.
Employees then hand test each part before assembly. There were four people working on putting together the parts for a compact PX4 pistol, each doing one component, like the trigger mechanism.
I was taken to a basement shooting range to try out some of their guns (see photos below). I shot all sizes of the PX4 - full, compact, subcompact.
I’d tried the full-size pistol at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Virginia recently and made it a finalist in the poll of which gun I should buy.
I also shot their newest offering, the Nano. (Watch video of me shooting the PX4 here).
They allowed me to shoot the 93R, an automatic handgun — but only in semi-automatic mode (watch the video of me shooting here). They aren’t allowed to import any more of these to the United States.
I had to laugh trying to shoot the powerful ARX-160 rifle — which comes out this year — but again, in semi-auto mode (watch the video of me shooting here).
Business is booming at Beretta, as it is at all American firearm manufacturers.
The industry has experienced an unprecedented rise in the market as law-abiding Americans have feared the Obama administration would move to take away their freedom to own a gun.
While the company has sold over 600,000 pistols to the military since 1985, the biggest part of its market is now civilian.
Below are photos of the manufacturing process at Beretta, as well as me shooting their guns.
Next up in the series: Getting a gun in Virginia
“Emily gets her gun” is a new series following senior editor Emily Miller as she legally tries to get her hands on a gun in the nation’s capital. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.