Today, the company produces more than 100,000 guns annually, supplying the militaries and police of the United States and its allies, including the Iraqi army. It has shipped an additional million for purchase by private citizens, including some on display at its high-end galleries in Dallas, London, Milan and Paris. There, Beretta has turned firearms into a luxury accessory with its $130,000 Montecarlo shotguns, $1,000 hunting jackets and sweepstakes to hunt with the Duchess of Rutland.
The company’s new rifle, which it is reluctant to call an “assault” weapon, could add to that profile. It would be the first civilian version of a machine gun that is now available only to militaries, and that is configured with a clip-on grenade launcher for many special operations units.
Beretta plans to sell the semiautomatic, .223 caliber version as the ARX-100. It is expected to sell for about $2,000.
The assault-weapons ban isn’t the only part of the governor’s bill Beretta dislikes.
In Maryland, gun manufacturers are required to register as firearms dealers, which some say could expose the company to lawsuits for selling and shipping weapons as dealers do. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the governor’s bill 7 to 4 late Thursday, spelled out an exemption for Beretta and a handful of other smaller manufacturers in the state.
But the company said it is still not clear how it would handle warranty and repair issues for its many lines of guns, which are also serviced in Accokeek. The bill does not specify if the company could charge to fix guns that would be deemed illegal for sale, or if it could legally ship them back to their owners. Lawmakers said intermediary gun dealers would likely have to facilitate the transactions.
O’Malley aides say the bill could have outright banned manufacturing of assault weapons in the state but did not in part because of Beretta, which has agreed to meet with the administration on Monday to discuss the bill.
“We think getting assault weapons off the streets and keeping this company can both be accomplished,” said Raquel Guillory, O’Malley’s spokeswoman.
But some lawmakers said Beretta will have to be a bigger part of the discussion before the bill passes.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), whose district encompasses the Accokeek plant, said he would do everything he could for the company.
“We want to keep those jobs,” said Vallario, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has a key role in approving the legislation.
As he walked along the production floor recently, Reh said Beretta officials say they do not want to leave their U.S. headquarters in Maryland.
Relocating high-tech machining equipment and vats of chrome used to plate Beretta barrels would be costly and out of character for a company that is still based in the Italian town where it began in 1526.
The company’s Italian patriarch, Ugo Gussalli Beretta, visited the plant shortly after O’Malley introduced his gun-control bill, and the two discussed the issue. But Reh declined to say if the two reached any decisions about what would happen if the governor’s bill passes.
“All I can tell you is, Mr. Beretta said, ‘There always seems to be a problem with Maryland.’ ”