- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Citing Maryland’s recently enacted firearm laws and the prospect of more restrictions, the U.S. arm of legendary Italian gunmaker Beretta announced Tuesday that it would move its manufacturing operations to Tennessee next year.

The move makes Beretta the latest maker of guns or ammunition to move all or part of its operations to another state because of tightened gun control laws.

General Manager Jeff Cooper said an early version of a statute passed last year by the Maryland state Senate would have prohibited the company from manufacturing or storing products in the state.

“While we were able in the Maryland House of Delegates to reverse some of those obstructive provisions, the possibility that such restrictions might be reinstated in the future leaves us very worried about the wisdom of maintaining a firearm manufacturing factory in the state,” Mr. Cooper said.

A number of states, especially those that are conservative and gun-friendly, approached the Italian company last year after officials expressed concern about strict gun laws in liberal-leaning Maryland.

Maryland and a number of other states enacted restrictions on certain models of military-style, semi-automatic weapons and ammunition magazine sizes in response to the Connecticut school shootings in December 2012 that killed 20 children and six educators.

Beretta isn’t the first firearms manufacturer to seek a friendlier political climate. Magpul Industries Corp., which makes firearms accessories, announced in January that it would relocate from Erie, Colorado, to Texas and Wyoming. It’s move was a response to sweeping gun control bills signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Another Colorado company, HiViz Shooting Systems, revealed in May 2013 that it would move its operations from Fort Collins to Laramie, Wyoming.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, signed tougher gun control legislation in April 2013, prompted firearms manufacturer PTR Industries Inc. of Bristol to announce a relocation.

Colt Competition, which manufactures high-end AR-15 rifles, announced in April 2013 that it would move from Oregon to North Texas.

In Beretta’s case, the company said it had no plans to relocate its office, administrative and executive support functions from its facility in the Prince George’s County community of Accokeek.

Beretta originally planned to use the Gallatin, Tennessee, facility only for new equipment and production of new product lines.

Beretta employs some 400 people and expects to create another 300 jobs at the Tennessee plant, slated for completion in the middle of next year. Investment in construction and equipment is expected to be $45 million.

A spokesman for Prince George’s County expressed disappointment about Beretta’s decision but said the county would continue to pursue business and job opportunities for all residents, including more than $4.3 billion of development in the pipeline.

“If there were any issues that the county could have addressed to keep Beretta here, you can be sure that we would have addressed them immediately,” spokesman Scott Peterson said.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also expressed disappointment but said “the common-sense gun safety law we passed, which includes licenses for handgun purchases, is keeping schools, families and law enforcement personnel safe.”

“We will keep investing in schools, innovation and infrastructure so that we can continue to create jobs and ensure that our children have more opportunity rather than less,” spokeswoman Nina Smith said.

Mr. Cooper said no employees in Maryland would face changes for months and that the company would have discussions with those whose jobs might be affected.

The company, which manufactures firearms ranging from hunting shotguns to the M-9 pistol used by the U.S. armed forces, began its search for a location outside Maryland in March 2013.

The transition to a new facility will not begin until next year, and production of the U.S. military’s M-9 will continue at the Accokeek facility until all current orders are filled, the company said.

Andrea Noble contributed to this report.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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