ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - As a far-reaching gun-control measure aims to ban assault weapons in Maryland, neighboring states are trying to woo away a Beretta factory, whose employees would be unable to buy some of its products.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who represents the district where the factory is located in Accokeek and has received $12,000 in campaign contributions from Beretta since 2005, noted Friday that senators changed the bill with Beretta in mind, but he says the company still isn't happy.
"We have, I think, helped the company as best we possibly can in terms of them continuing to be able to do business in the state of Maryland," said Miller, who voted for the bill, although he expressed misgivings about it. "We've allowed them to manufacture. We've allowed them to sell, and we've cut back on their paper work."
But West Virginia and Virginia are looking to capitalize on the company's dissatisfaction with the measure.
On Thursday, West Virginia House Speaker Rick Thompson said he had written to Beretta to offer West Virginia as a suitable location because it's "where the people understand and care about your industry."
Thompson said his state has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the country, behind only Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. He also said that it would not support gun-control measures such as those being discussed in Maryland.
"This, combined with the state's long support of the Second Amendment and our close proximity to your current headquarters, makes us an excellent choice for Beretta USA in your relocation efforts," Thompson wrote.
Earlier in the week, Virginia Republican lieutenant governor candidate and investment company executive Pete Snyder wrote to the company touting Virginia's favorable tax and gun climate. Beretta already has a facility in Fredericksburg, and Snyder said he could promise Beretta "would be welcomed with open arms in all parts of the Commonwealth."
Plus, he added, it was Virginian James Madison who penned the nation's Bill of Rights, including the right to bear arms.
"In Virginia, we have a tradition of respect for the right to bear arms, and a robust culture of firearms-ownership for sport, for defending ourselves and our property, and for the best reason of all: because it is our right," he wrote to a Beretta executive on Tuesday.
Jeff Reh, a member of the Board of Directors for Beretta U.S.A. Corp. in Accokeek, testified last month that Beretta has two other companies in Maryland that import or sell firearms. Together, the companies employ about 400 people in the state. Reh also noted that the companies are projected to pay about $31 million in taxes to the state from 1997 to 2014.
Reh testified that the nearly 500-year history of the Beretta family shows commitment to the community in which it locates its business. The state, however, isn't reciprocating by advancing the gun-control bill, he said.
"Instead we are confronted with a state government that wants to ban our products at a time, by the way, when numerous other state governments are courting our investment," Reh said in written testimony to a Senate panel. "It is worth noting that these states also do not try to blame a product for human misconduct."
The bill would ban assault weapons and require people who buy handguns to get a license and submit fingerprints. It also would limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds and prohibit anyone who has been involuntarily committed due to mental illness from possessing a firearm. The measure passed the Senate on Thursday, and a hearing was held by committees in the House of Delegates on Friday.
The hearing drew huge crowds of supporters and opponents to Annapolis. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the legislation, spoke at the rally of supporters.
Mosi Harrington of Hyattsville said six students have been killed in six months in Prince George's County by gun violence.
"When do we say that's enough? It's enough." Harrington said.
But Doug Bigelow of Hagerstown said he came to the state capital to speak out for his Second Amendment rights to defend his family.
"I'm not going to wait for the sheriff to arrive 45 minutes later in the middle of nowhere where I live," Bigelow said. "I have the right to be able to defend myself."