But under an assault-weapons ban that advanced late last week in the Maryland General Assembly, experts say the gun would be illegal in the state where it is produced.
Now Beretta is weighing whether the rifle line, and perhaps the company itself, should stay in a place increasingly hostile toward its products. Its iconic 9mm pistol — carried by every U.S. soldier and scores of police departments — would also be banned with its high capacity, 13-bullet magazine.
“Why expand in a place where the people who built the gun couldn’t buy it?” said Jeffrey Reh, general counsel for Beretta.
Concern that the company will leave, and take its 300 jobs with it, is palpable among state lawmakers who worry it could be collateral damage from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed gun-control bill.
Among other restrictions, O’Malley’s bill would ban assault rifles, magazines with more than 10 bullets and any new guns with two or more “military-like” features. Gun experts said it’s a near-certainty that Beretta’s semiautomatic version of the ARX-160, now only a prototype, would be banned under O’Malley’s bill.
“I’m concerned. I think they’re going to move,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). “They sell guns across the world and in every state in the union — to places a lot more friendly to the company than this state.”
In Beretta’s low-slung factory along the Potomac River in Accokeek, where walls are lined with trophy heads of caribou, wild boars and black bears shot by employees, the legislation proposed by O’Malley (D) feels like an affront.
In testimony this month in Annapolis, Reh, who oversees the plant, warned lawmakers to consider carefully the company’s future. Reh pointed to the last time Maryland ratcheted up gun restrictions in the 1990s: Beretta responded by moving its warehouse operation to Virginia.
“I think they thought we were bluffing” in the 1990s, Reh said. “But Berettas don’t bluff.”
Growth of a company
The small U.S. division that Beretta started 35 years ago in Prince George’s has added substantial swagger to a company that already billed itself as the “World’s Oldest Industrial Dynasty.”
From behind the modest brick facade of an abandoned gun plant it purchased in 1977 on Indian Head Highway, Beretta won a landmark contract to become the standard sidearm of all U.S. military personnel in 1985. To the chagrin of American competitors, it soon replaced the venerable Colt 45.
More than a half-million of the company’s guns have been shipped to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, each stamped as made in Accokeek.