Republicans blame Maryland gun law for Beretta’s decision to open plant in Tennessee

A decision by a Maryland gun company to open a new plant in Tennessee led some Republicans to blame Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s tough new gun control law for the loss of several hundred jobs.

Beretta USA officials announced Wednesday that the company would build a $45 million manufacturing facility outside Nashville and create 300 new jobs.

Although the privately owned company couched its announcement in terms of Tennessee’s wooing, Beretta had made clear last year that the family-owned business might look elsewhere for business opportunities if Maryland pressed forward with a new gun control law.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron George wasted little time in claiming an explicit connection between the gun maker’s decision and the state’s new gun control law. George called the company’s move “tragic” and argued that its decision was indicative of damage that Maryland’s business climate has sustained because of the O’Malley administration’s economic policies.

“The hostile environment O’Malley and [Lt. Gov. Anthony G.] Brown created has made it impossible for companies like Beretta, who have paid Maryland taxes and provided hundreds of jobs for nearly 30 years, to stay in a state [where] they do not feel welcome,” George said in a written statement.

O’Malley’s office defended his record on creating private sector jobs and noted that Beretta’s other operations remain in place.

“We appreciate Beretta’s continued presence here in Maryland, and their commitment to Prince George’s County and our state,” O’Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said in a written statement. “Private sector business is driving economic growth in Maryland, we created over seven thousand jobs last month, and have created over 36,000 jobs since December 2012. We’ll continue to work with members of our business community to create jobs and expand opportunity for more Marylanders.”

Beretta has been making guns in Maryland for nearly four decades. The company, whose U.S. division headquarters is located on the Potomac River in Accokeek, makes the U.S. military’s M-9 pistol and an array of other firearms. Last year, in a press release and in news accounts, the company warned of its restlessness in a state perceived as hostile to gun rights.

“Why expand in a place where the people who built the gun couldn’t buy it?” Beretta general counsel Jeffrey Reh told The Washington Post. He had warned that Beretta was not bluffing, citing a previous transfer of its warehouse operation to Virginia in the 1990s after Maryland enacted other gun control laws. “Berettas don’t bluff,” he told The Post.

At the time, the Maryland General Assembly moved toward passing some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation following the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The new law bans 45 types of assault rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and includes steps intended to make it harder for those who are mentally ill to obtain firearms.

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