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Beretta to W.Va.: Because of Manchin gun bill, we'll look elsewhere

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gun maker Beretta USA will not expand its operations into West Virginia, despite lobbying from state officials, because they say Sen. Joe Manchin's push to expand background checks makes the state less stable for their business.

Jeffrey Reh, a Beretta USA executive, said Friday that the company might not move from its Maryland location, but it has been considering expansion and it will not expand in either West Virginia or Maryland.

Maryland recently passed one of the country's strictest gun-control laws.

Beretta USA has never said that it would move or expand to West Virginia, but state elected officials made efforts to woo it earlier this spring after a strict gun-control bill began advancing in Maryland's legislature.

Reh said company officials are still considering seven states for a possible expansion but declined to name those states. He said they were waiting to see what kind of offers those states might propose to make a move for Beretta USA more appealing.

Reh said the company decided to rule West Virginia out of any potential expansion because of Manchin's bill and the fact that he worked on it with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whom he called one of the Senate's most liberal members.

Manchin said Beretta USA is distorting his bill's intent.

"I believe that my legislation, which an independent poll just showed that 75 percent of West Virginians agree with, is a reasonable approach that in no way infringes on our right to bear arms," Manchin said in a written statement Friday. "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 Democrat, sponsored the bill with Schumer as well as two Republican senators, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

That bill, which failed to pass the Senate or the House, would have expanded background checks for gun sales but left exemptions for sales between family members and friends. It included an explicit ban on a national gun registry. It also would have allowed handguns to be sold between states by licensed dealers, something not currently allowed.

Manchin has said he does not consider the bill to be dead, although there has been no official action on it since it failed to pass a procedural vote in April.

If it did pass, Manchin's bill would apply to every state in the country, not exclusively West Virginia, but Reh said Manchin's actions made Beretta USA question West Virginia.

"Our understanding was that the people of West Virginia were strongly pro-gun," Reh said. "We don't know how emblematic his reaction is of other West Virginians."

West Virginia consistently ranks in the top 10 of states with the highest percentage of gun owners.

In this spring's legislative session at least 36 bills were proposed that would ease gun laws in West Virginia.

Beretta USA employs about 400 people in Maryland. The state's lawmakers recently passed a law banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, among other measures.

In March, as that bill was working its way through Maryland's legislature, West Virginia lawmakers began wooing Beretta to move one state west.

Rick Thompson, who was then speaker of the House of Delegates, wrote to Beretta USA, proposing West Virginia as an alternative "where the people understand and care about your industry."

Del. Tim Miley, the new speaker of the House, wrote to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, urging him to look into what sort of incentives could be offered to entice Beretta USA to come to West Virginia.

Within the past two weeks Manchin and the National Rifle Association have both begun attacking each other through campaign-style television ads, despite the fact that Manchin is not up for re-election until 2018 and is a member of the NRA.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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