In 2012, 77 arsons plagued a small, rural community on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Over the span of five months, Accomack County residents and firefighters could not pin down the culprit, who was widely suspected to be a member of their community.
For nearly 40 years, Beretta has been making handguns, shotguns and semiautomatic rifles at its factory in southern Prince George’s County. Now, the company says Maryland’s new gun control laws are prompting it to close its Accokeek factory and move the 160 jobs there to a new plant in Tennessee. Kojo looks at the implications for Maryland and its governor’s race.
- Michael Dresser Statehouse Reporter, The Baltimore Sun
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, cooking to beat the heat, it's Food Wednesday. But first, the name is synonymous with guns, Beretta USA is the American arm of the iconic Italian gun maker. And the company has been manufacturing handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles at its factory in Southern Maryland since 1977.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut now, Beretta is leaving Maryland, out of concern about the states new gun control laws. The company says, it's worried they'll eventually get more restrictive. The move means 160 jobs will leave the state, headed for a new manufacturing plant in Tennessee. It also means another point of contention between the two candidates for governor in this fall's election.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to look at the implications of Beretta's pullout is Michael Dresser. He is Maryland Statehouse reporter with The Baltimore Sun. Michael Dresser joins us by phone. Thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL DRESSERGood to be with you Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Is Beretta right to pull out of Maryland because of the state's new gun control laws or do you see it otherwise, 800-433-8850? Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Michael, what exactly will the states new gun control laws do and why are they apparently worrisome to Beretta?
DRESSERWell, the law has a number of different requirements. Some of which directly affect the Beretta and some of which don't. Most notable, you know, you know, things are new hand licensing requirements for ownership of handguns. There are provisions there that are designed to stop straw purchases in which a person buys, you know, guns on behalf of people who are not legally able to own them and buy them themselves.
DRESSERThere are also limits, you know, there's a ban on the sale of certain assault rifles in the state of Maryland. There are also limitations on the size of magazines, you know, limiting the number of bullets that, you know, can be fired and -- in one burst. And, you know, the -- it's considered to be among the stricter laws in the country and...
NNAMDIMaybe so but from what I am hearing, none of those laws that you have mentioned, so far, would interfere with Beretta's manufacturing, Beretta storage or Beretta shipment of products.
DRESSERWhat happened in 2013 is that, is -- as I understand, and this is from a discussion with the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Brian Frosh, was that there were series of provisions in the governors bill that may have related to things like storage and transport of assault weapons, in particular, in Maryland. And apparently, they went through the Senate, Senator Frosh said that, no objection was heard from, you know, from the company, while it was coming through the Senate.
DRESSERBut when it came through the Senate, they saw what the center product was and they raised objections and that those provisions were taken out in the House of Delegates. It wasn't that the House of Delegates made the bill something that Beretta liked but that they took out the provisions that directly might have affected its ability to do business. And as the law was passed, it did not include those provisions.
NNAMDIBut Beretta decided that it wants to have its gun manufacturing part of the business leave, anyway. What's the total number of jobs we're talking about here, that are leaving and there's...
DRESSERThere are now about 160 jobs on the manufacturing side of Beretta in Maryland. Now, Beretta also has, at its Accokeek campus in Southern Prince George's County, its administrative and business headquarters. Those 95 jobs are supposed to remain in Maryland.
NNAMDIWhy are they remaining? Why is Maryland a good location for the administrative offices of the company?
DRESSERWell, the Beretta does a lot of business with the federal government, particularly the military. And, you know, it's always been advantageous to them, to have a location close to Washington. And, you know, with -- I don't know that there's any particularly advantage to them in putting those jobs into Tennessee. You know, one thing that could be seen, was the company had always intended to do, you know -- or had announced plans to build a plant in Tennessee.
DRESSEROriginally, what it said was, do all its new production there. But what they've said yesterday was, we're just gonna consolidate all our manufacturing operations in Tennessee and phase out the Maryland side of the manufacturing operations. You know, they're -- certainly the company emphasized political policy reasons for the move. But there very well may have been business reasons too, to want to consolidate this.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Michael Dresser, Maryland Statehouse reporter for The Baltimore Sun about the decision by the Beretta company to remove its gun factory from the state of Maryland and take those operations to Tennessee. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How do you think the Beretta decision will affect the governor's race and the arguments for and against gun control, 800-433-8850? Michael Dresser, what's the relationship between Dresser and the state of Maryland been like, over the years? How hard has the state tried to keep Beretta here, even as the largely democratic state has supported tighter gun control laws?
DRESSERWell, Beretta has had some powerful support in the general assembly. Notably from Senate -- President Mike Miller and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario, both of whom represent the area where, you know, where Beretta is located. Both have tried, over the years, to, you know, accommodate Beretta's interests and, in fact, Vallario is credited with allow the changes to the House Bill that made it less onerous for Beretta.
DRESSERAnd one of the reasons that I find it credible that Beretta might not of raised its objections into the Senate bill was that they, if he had had raised its objections to Miller, he almost certainly would've insisted on changes to accommodate them. Now, Beretta has had a complicated relationship with the O'Malley administration. For one thing, back in, I think, it was 2011 or 2012, the Maryland State Police decided to switch, you know, its standard service weapon from Beretta to Glock for reasons that the state police -- that were linked with, you know, the reliability of a Beretta gun.
DRESSERAnd certainly, that -- from what I understand, that, you know, lead to some tension. That, you know, the -- that the state put other considerations ahead of, you know, working more closely with a company because it was located in Maryland.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Falls Church, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. I wanted to call and say, Beretta made a decision to consolidate its manufacturing operations in Tennessee for its own internal business reasons, lower cost of living, lower overhead and better margins. They would be far better advised to support law abiding, responsible gun owners and disassociate themselves with the criminals and the dangerously mentally ill people who commit crimes with guns.
CHRISThey should follow the example of the Distilled Spirits Industry which promoted responsible drinking and is now doing very well. And people do not blame the industry for individual tragedies. So they would be better off…
NNAMDIWell, how about this argument, Chris. It has been argued that Beretta's customers tend to oppose strict gun control laws anyplace and that might influence the companies thinking about where it wants to locate. It wants to please its customers.
CHRISDidn't you just say they're staying here because they do business with the U.S. government? I would love to see their internal balance sheet and see what there was profitable customers are. You know, individuals that no matter how many guns -- handguns they've -- buy, are not going to compete with the U.S. military. Also, the endorsement of the U.S. military is very important for international sales, for Beretta.
NNAMDIThank you very much for making that point. Michael Dresser, Beretta as Chris has pointed out, already had plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Tennessee, which you said earlier. Did Maryland's gun legislation just speed the process of consolidation, give Beretta, if you will, an excuse?
DRESSERI think that's -- I can't say what was, you know, the logic, you know, within Beretta, in terms of what influenced their decision, what they announced was a reason that had specifically to do with the gun legislation.
DRESSERWhat they said was, they had a concern that those provisions from the Senate Bill of 2013, that perhaps could've really crimped its operations, might be revived in future legislative sessions.
DRESSERBy my reporting, that may have been a misplaced concern because from what I can gather, there was -- there has been no sentiment to revisit that legislation or to broaded it or to put new restrictions on manufacture. But I do agree that Beretta is sensitive to its customer base. And its customer base is likely sympathetic to moving out of Maryland.
NNAMDIExcept its customer base that means the U.S. military, but we won't go there because Chris...
DRESSERNo, I mean, it's customer is, I mean, it's civilian customer based.
NNAMDIIt's civilian customer based. Chris, thank you very much for your call. Michael, let's look at the political implications of Beretta's decision. The Republican candidate for governor, Larry Hogan, is already using the announcement to blast his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. How has Beretta's decision likely to play in the campaign, this fall?
DRESSERI ultimately think that it's probably going to be a very minor issue. In the terms of the number of jobs, nobody's sneezing at the loss of 160 jobs but we're looking at a state that's fairly routinely fluctuates, you know, for instance, he was down about 7,000 in May, up a little more than 7,000 in June.
DRESSEROne-sixty is a fairly mall percentage of that normal fluctuation. I think, what is a little sensitive here is that, you know, these are, you know, presumably high paying, skilled manufacturing jobs, the like of which, you know, Maryland can -- we really can't spare a whole lot of those. But, in total numbers, it's not, you know, likely to devastate the Southern Maryland or even Prince George's County. It's more symbolic.
DRESSERBut, you know, I think that, it's probably limited gains for Hogan from this because the people outraged over this are people who have probably already vote for Hogan. And by paying too much attention to the gun issue, you know, Hogan would be -- we emphasizing in an issue that probably cuts more Brown's way. You know, in past polling, show Marylander's fairly sympathetic to gun regulation.
NNAMDIWhat's the timing for Beretta's departure?
DRESSERThey say they expect to start about midway through 2015 moving their production lines into completed by the end of next year.
NNAMDIMichael Dresser is Maryland's Statehouse reporter with the Baltimore Sun. Michael Dresser, thank you for joining us.
DRESSERKojo, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, cooking to beat the heat. Get ready. It's Food Wednesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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