By Lawrence Messina
An executive of gun maker Beretta USA said Friday the company turned down offers from officials and groups in West Virginia to relocate to the state because of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s role in the gun control debate.
Jeffrey Reh, general counsel and vice-general manager, cited comments from the West Virginia Democrat targeting high-capacity ammunition magazines. He said the company also has concerns with a provision in the measure Manchin has co-sponsored with Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, to expand gun buyer background checks to gun shows and Internet sales.
Beretta, based in Accokeek, Md., believes Manchin has joined forces with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and vocal gun control advocate, leading the company to question whether “West Virginia was a pro-gun as we thought,” Reh said.
“That really caused us some consternation and concern,” Reh said. “We’ve decided not to consider West Virginia as a site for future expansion.”
Calling himself “a proud owner of two Beretta shotguns,” Manchin said Friday he was “truly disappointed in this cheap political shot their management has taken.”
“It’s shameful that Beretta, who seems to have no intention of moving from one of the most gun restrictive states in the country, is deceiving the great people of West Virginia in attempting to score a political point,” Manchin, a former governor, said in a statement.
Manchin has also tangled with the National Rifle Association. Both Manchin and the NRA have launched dueling TV ads as he seeks additional support for the background check proposal, which failed to advance in an April vote.
Then-House Speaker Rick Thompson, a Democrat, was among those who wrote Beretta earlier this year after it said it would consider moving operations out of Maryland, which has since enacted a strict gun control law. Among other provisions, it limits ammunition magazines and bans the in-state sale of 45 types of assault weapons, including models made by Beretta.
Beretta has two other companies in Maryland that import or sell firearms, and together its holdings employ about 400 people in the state. In his appeal, Thompson had cited West Virginia’s high gun ownership rate and said his state does not support the sort of gun control measures seen in Maryland. The Legislature passed several gun rights measures during this year’s session. Thompson championed this approach before stepping down to head the state’s Department of Veterans’ Assistance.
Background checks are meant to prevent criminals and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing firearms, but are mandated only for sales handled by licensed gun dealers. Among its provisions, the Manchin-Toomey proposal would exempt non-commercial transactions such as sales between friends and relatives. Manchin on Friday defended the measure as a commonsense and reasonable approach “that in no way infringes on our right to bear arms.”
Reh said he and executives from other firearms makers met with Manchin to discuss his proposal the day it stalled. Reh said they “had a very friendly but clear discussion,” but that he questioned a “very problematic” provision that gave gun shows priority for accessing the background check system.
Reh said that would stymie retailers both large and small on weekends, when dozens of gun shows are held throughout the country.
“The bill as drafted could have effectively prohibited checks at retail outlets,” Reh said. Manchin “felt that there was a way to work around that, but I haven’t figured out what that would be.”
Reh said he has responded to each of the dozen or so West Virginia overtures to his company. Other states courting Beretta include Virginia, Texas and Utah.