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Gun maker turns down W.Va. offers

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's role in the gun control debate has prompted firearms maker Beretta USA to turn down offers from officials and groups in West Virginia that it relocate to the state, a company executive said Friday.

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 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."

The response follows dueling TV ads from Manchin and the National Rifle Association as the senator seeks additional support for the background check proposal, which failed to advance in an April vote. Spokesman Jonathan Kott said Manchin was aware of Beretta's position but did not immediately comment.

Then-House Speaker Rick Thompson, like Manchin a Democrat, was among those who wrote Beretta earlier this year after it said it would consider moving operations out of Maryland. That state was then considering, and 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 at a factory there.

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 pro-gun 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. Reh said he and executives from other firearms makers met with Manchin to discuss his background check proposal the day it stalled in the Senate.

Reh said they "had a very friendly but clear discussion" about the measure, but that he questioned a "very problematic" provision that gave gun shows priority for accessing the background check system. Reh cited how 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 have also courted Beretta including Virginia, Texas and Utah.

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Follow Lawrence Messina at http://twitter.com/lmessina

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