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State chamber head takes Beretta to task over Manchin statement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce this week criticized the Italian-owned gun manufacturer Beretta USA, saying he found the company's comments about not locating in West Virginia because of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's efforts to expand background checks for gun buyers "very troubling."

"Part of the reason I am reacting to this is that it looks like it was part of an effort to give West Virginia a black eye," said Steve Roberts, the chamber's president.

"Joe Manchin is one of the strongest Second Amendment supporters in the Senate. He represents the views of the vast majority of people in West Virginia in supporting background checks to make sure the wrong kinds of weapons don't end up in the hands of known criminals and potential terrorists," Roberts said.

Last Friday, Jeffrey Reh, a Beretta USA executive, criticized Manchin, D-W.Va., for his efforts to expand background checks for anyone who purchases a gun in legislation he co-sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Reh said his company would not move or expand its operations into West Virginia because of Manchin's bill.

Roberts "found it surprising" that Beretta was announcing it would not come to the Mountain State last week, "particularly given that it was reported in 'The Baltimore Sun' in May that they would not be leaving Maryland. It appears they had already made that decision."

On May 24, the Baltimore Sun reported that "Beretta USA threatened to abandon its home on the Potomac if Maryland passed a strict new gun-control law, but after the law was signed the company announced that its operations would remain in Prince George's County for now."

The company employs 400 people at its Maryland facility.

Last week, Reh said that Beretta was considering a move to seven other states, but would not name those states.

Roberts said, "It also is surprising to me that a European-owned gun manufacturer would take a position like this in opposition to what 75 percent of West Virginians, who were polled, believe.

"It strikes me as very odd, and needs to be confronted in a diplomatic way, that a company that does business with the United States military is offering opinions based on facts that are not accurately presented," Roberts said.

"They [Beretta] have every right to believe in what they want to believe. But West Virginians are not opposed to the Second Amendment. They are not opposed to the gun industry. And West Virginia's members of Congress are not opposed to those views."

In a response to Beretta last week, Manchin said, "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. 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."

Beretta first won a federal contract to become a major supplier of pistols to all branches of the United States military in 1985. The company opened its gun-manufacturing facility in Maryland in 1997.

Last September, Beretta received a new five-year contract to provide another 100,000 pistols to the U.S. military.

On its website, Beretta states it "is the oldest firearms manufacturer in the world, dating back to 1526. Still run by the Beretta family, the company produces advanced firearms, optics and accessories known worldwide for their quality and reliability."

The National Rifle Association has run television ads against Manchin for sponsoring the bill, and Manchin - a lifetime NRA member -- has aired ads of his own in response.

Manchin has recently become involved in major arguments with the NRA, an organization in which he holds a lifetime membership.

"Manchin has long been given the highest ratings by the NRA and considered to be the most pro-gun Democrat in the United States Senate," Roberts said, adding that "The Manchin-Toomey legislation is actually very limited and was previously agreed to by the NRA.

"It would have no impact on everyday people, on West Virginians, on working families. The bill is also supported by police chiefs and law enforcement officials throughout the country," Roberts said.

 Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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