Mar 042013

Owen Courreges

Beretta USA is now the belle of the ball.  New Orleans needs to be an eager suitor.

It all started in January when Maryland Governor Mike O’Malley proposed the “Firearm Safety Act of 2013.” This bill, which has now passed the Maryland state senate on a 28-19 vote, is grotesquely unconstitutional dreck that will severely restrict the Second Amendment rights of Maryland citizens.

Ok, perhaps I’m prone to hyperbole at times, but this is not one of those times.  O’Malley’s gun control bill establishes a licensing scheme for the mere ownership of a handgun, with mandatory firearms training and fingerprinting, essentially placing a recognized constitutional right at the whim of state regulation.  Obviously, any right that depends on the good graces of bureaucrats is not really a right at all.  Essentially, although the Supreme Court has said that handgun ownership is a constitutional right, Maryland is saying, “who cares?”

The legislation also broadly bans “assault weapons,” a definition which includes ordinary handguns that merely have threaded barrels capable of accepting accessories (regardless of whether such accessories are present), and it does so retroactively, so a guy who simply owns a prohibited firearm gathering dust in his closet will become a felon if he doesn’t register it.  There isn’t even a vague attempt to tailor the definition to include only firearms that are actually more dangerous than others, or to exclude innocent owners.

Accordingly, anybody with any concern over established gun rights is not enamored of O’Malley’s legislation.  This would include a noteworthy Maryland corporation, Beretta USA.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Beretta (whose full name is Fabbrica D’ Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A.) , he’s a bit of history.  Beretta has been making guns for nearly five hundred years.  It was established in 1526, the year its founder sold rifle barrels for the Venetian arsenal (this was about eighty years, by the way, before William Shakespeare wrote “Merchant of Venice”).  They have been a family-owned firearms manufacturer ever since, always outliving the regimes to which they have sold.  Governments come and go; Beretta endures.

In 1985, Beretta was the winning bidder in a contract to manufacture the M9 pistol, which today is the primary sidearm of the U.S.  Army, Air Force and Marines.  The contract provided that the M9 would be produced in the U.S., and thus Beretta established its manufacturing in Maryland.   Beretta USA remains a major player in the American firearms industry.

Naturally, Beretta is less than happy with O’Malley’s proposed legislation.  The M9’s 13-cartidge capacity renders it illegal under O’Malley’s bill.  It’s embarrassing to be based in a state where your own employees can’t own the guns they produce, particularly where those same guns are freely available in most other states.  Heck, it’s downright unwelcoming.  You might as well march into the factory and lay a steamer on the foreman’s desk.

As Beretta USA Board Member Jeff Rey recently noted: “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.”

There is certainly a lot of courting going on.  The main thrust has been from Virginia and West Virginia, where gun laws are more reasonable.  Virginia is widely considered the front-runner as Beretta USA relocated its warehouses there in 1990 following a previous spate of gun control.

However, there have also been whispers of interest from Louisiana.  Recently, Rodessa Alderwoman Penny Harville has been particularly vocal.

According to Councilwoman Harville, Rodessa “would be honored to have Beretta USA consider North Caddo Parish as a new possible location for any part of their gun manufacturing operations.”  She argues that the area has sufficient infrastructure and that she and her fellow Rodessians “esteem the 2nd amendment and hold manufactures of firearms in high regard.”

This has me thinking.  Why not New Orleans?  We have an illustrious military background.  We’re home to the National World War II Museum.  And on top of it all, we’re the beneficiaries of some of the least restrictive firearms laws in the country, a condition enshrined by the recent passage of a constitutional amendment specifically protecting the right to keep and bear arms and subjecting any law restricting the right to the highest standard of review – strict scrutiny.  In theory, this should be a spectacular combination.

Alas, to my knowledge, there is no effort here to court the well-paying manufacturing jobs that Beretta could contribute to the local economy.  You see, we play host to Congressman Cedric Richmond, who has repeatedly pushed gun control during his political career.  In Uptown we have recently elected a councilwoman, LaToya Cantrell, who has placed herself firmly in the anti-gun camp. Our state-level leadership (including, it should be noted, Senator Mary Landrieu) is far less enamored of gun control, but local officials remain problematic.

Still, we are a state with preemption of local firearms laws, and New Orleans is a better political climate for gun makers than Maryland.  So why isn’t our hat in the ring? Is there no one who wants that honor to be here?  We’re in a unique position to attract business from a public-relations perspective and labor costs, taxes, etc., are comparatively low.  Most importantly, we need more commerce, especially in the manufacturing sector.

In World War II our G.I.’s were transported in New Orleans-made Higgins boats.  In the next war, I’d like to see them outfitted with New Orleans-made Beretta pistols.  Granted, it’s probably a pipe dream, but that’s a dream we should all want to see come true.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • It would be nice! But as you pointed out, the city’s leadership (?) is squarely in the anti-gun camp. Also, in the anti-business camp. They’re not interested in anything but tourism.

    • Jim,

      True, but Beretta wouldn’t have to relocate to New Orleans proper; it could set up shop somewhere else in the metroplex. I know they’re probably going to move to Virginia if they elect to relocate, but I frankly think the New Orleans area wouldn’t be a bad choice.

  • Uptowner

    Great idea. Richmond is a clown

  • Terrence O’Brien

    How much do you think Governor Jindal should offer as an inducement?

    • Terrance,

      He shouldn’t be any more generous than anybody else is being, and any inducements should be able to pass a basic cost/benefit analysis without any rosy assumptions. I dislike the system whereby major manufacturers are offered inducements, but unfortunately it’s the system we have and we must work within it.

      I don’t want our efforts to be ideologically-based necessarily, but this is a possible move based on charged policy so it necessarily will involve that somewhat. The benefit here, though, is that the only issue of policy is one that we’ve already dealt with, and we’re dealing with an industry that doesn’t generate significant externalities. Courting Beretta isn’t part of a race to the bottom.

      • Terrence O’Brien

        Come to Louisiana, we love guns, is a slogan for out times. I’m sure serious business investors will be greatly impressed. They may not buy on Milan Street though.

  • Terrence O’Brien

    I hope our industrial inducement efforts don’t become ideologically based. That could back fire, There are many companies and businesses that may have different views about current issues. Whether the state does anything to attract a business should be based exclusively on whether it is in the interests of our citizens. We certainly don’t want to become a refuge for industries that others don’t want. We already do that for various polluters and poisoners,

  • Diogonese

    Mr Courreges, your idea makes a great deal of sense. This ensures that the state and NO’s ruling class won’t do it.

  • RalphAdamo

    With ideas this bad, you ought to run for the state legislature.
    And on behalf of the many deceased servicemen and women who actually fought in WWII, I object to your flippant disregard for the mission they engaged, and to your mis-using their memory in the service of a fetishistic (and profit-oriented) gun worship that has nothing to do with who they were or what they were about. They were not gun enthusiasts;they were soldiers in a war.

    • Terrence O’Brien

      Many of our service members were killed with weapons manufactured by Baretta.

      • Terrance,

        Perhaps, but that really doesn’t tell the whole story. Pietro Beretta was liberal, not a fascist. His own house was seized to house soldiers and technicians, and he was only kept around to oversee production. In 1943, after the armistice the Beretta factory was seized by the Germans. The following year, Pietro was arrested by the Germans was subsequently rescued by anti-fascist partisans (who were also usually outfitted with Beretta weaponry).

        In any event, Beretta’s U.S. subsidiary has been supplying military sidearms to the U.S. since the 1980’s, so I would argue their connection to U.S. forces is well-established.

        • Terrence O’Brien

          Are these guns handmade by Pietro’s grandchildren? You can argue what you want, but the invocation of the memories of American WW II heroes to support this Italian arms manufacturer was an ugly stretch.

          • Terrence,

            Pietro’s grandson is presently managing director, and his sons work for the company, one of whom is involved in the production side.

            In any event, I see nothing ugly about saying that our military history, including playing host to the National World War II Museum, puts us in a good position to lobby for the relocation of a major maker of arms for the U.S. military like Beretta USA.

            It is also worth remembering that Beretta is a military contractor because they’re good at producing handguns. During WWII, Beretta produced the Model 34 pistol, prized by U.S. soldiers as a capture item because it was lightweight and reliable. In fact, the National World War II museum is actively soliciting donations of Model 34’s. Beretta was compelled to produce arms for the wrong side in WWII, but even then our soldiers respected the handguns they designed. Now they make them for our military (and we didn’t have to quarter soldiers in their house to get them to do so).

          • Terrence O’Brien

            I’m sure the Beretta vinyards are beautiful, and I hear Mama Beretta makes a delicious pasta primarvera, but their principal business is as international arms merchant. You really have to get away from this romanticism.

          • What, and see being a gun manufacturer as tawdry and wrong? If that’s the case, I disagree. There’s nothing wrong with making guns, and Beretta is a perfectly respectable company.

    • Ralph,

      What are you talking about? Beretta makes the sidearms that our fighting men and women have been using for nearly 30 years. That’s why they manufacture them in the U.S. Having that manufacturing here in New Orleans would positively reflect on our past and present connections to the military, as well as help the local economy.

      It sounds like a win-win scenario to me, and I have no idea why you would oppose it. It has nothing to do with whether individual soldiers were “gun enthusiasts” or serving “gun worship.” It’s just a commonsense proposal.

      Beretta is being driven out of Maryland by unconstitutional gun laws that would render its guns prohibited for civilian use, but that’s a separate issue from whether New Orleans should tout its military history in courting a military contractor.

      • RalphAdamo

        We disagree on many of the points that you present as self-evident,especially on the constitutionality of the Maryland law.
        I still object to an implied correlation between being a soldier in the great war and supporting gun manufacturer’s endless greed.

        • Terrence O’Brien

          Ralph, you suggested Owen has a fetish, but I view it more as misguided romanticism. Trying to attract an industry based on favorable historical images of guns is silly. Next, he’ll bring up our glorious history of dueling, I would not be opposed to the plant, but we should tout our work force, our natural resources or the like. If Louisiana’s affinity for guns were publicly used as a sales pitch, our incredibly poor record of gun violence would surely be mentioned too. It is stunning the lack of judgment many gun advocates show.

          • Terrance,

            I think you’re misstating my case. First and foremost I’m saying that we try and attract gun makers by presenting our strong protections for gun ownership, and secondly, based on our military history and connections, that we try to attract military contractors. Beretta fits into both categories. I doubt they’ll move here, but there’s a strong pitch to be made there.

            You’re correct that New Orleans’ rate of gun violence would probably come up if any firearms manufacturer relocated here (which is why rural parishes would probably have a better shot), but it isn’t as though Beretta is a disreputable company or that it would otherwise reflect badly on our city.

          • Deux amours

            Owen, it’s your column, and I want to you have the last word, at least until your next regularly scheduled piece on the glory of weaponry, but I must say that it is not just the “New Orleans rate of gun violence” that would be an issue. Louisiana as a whole rates poorly in this regard, and Baton Rouge always rates in the top ten for murder rates and is probably the most violent state capital in America. Finally, it is not that Baretta would reflect poorly on the city or state, but that we would reflect poorly on Baretta. I can hear the late night jokes about Baretta leaving a state with gun regulation to move to the murder capital of America,, and probably the company’s management could too. My point is that our slim chances of securing this industry would be increased if we laid low about guns.

          • Owen Courrèges


            “I must say that it is not just the “New Orleans rate of gun violence” that would be an issue. Louisiana as a whole rates poorly in this regard[.]”

            True, but I don’t think that carries over so much into the rural parishes, which I noted would probably have a better chance than we do.

            “[I]t is not that Baretta would reflect poorly on the city or state, but that we would reflect poorly on Baretta.”

            This is a good point, and it’s probably true. Beretta would probably want to avoid being tied to a state with high rates of violent crime. However, I disagree that we’d reduce our chances if we “laid low about guns.” Whatever slim chance we might have will come from getting some attention by playing to our relative strengths for attracting a gunmaker.

          • RalphAdamo

            I did not mean that he has one, but that he is representing a position that is reducible to fetishism,and in fact resembles nothing so much as that. As for the idea of luring a gun manufacturing plant here (or, as one idiot legislator proposed, creating a self-contained state gun business to circumvent the few sane restriction that we have on access to any weapon in the worrld), it is not really the sort of industry that is likely to enhance the state or its economy.

          • Owen Courrèges


            Calling my position “fetishism” is just ad hominem and that’s why I ignored it. As for enhancing our state and its economy, I think it’s ludicrous that you would act as though the good-paying jobs that Beretta would bring making guns for our fighting men and women would not help our economy or our state.

        • Ralph,

          The Maryland law mandates licensing of all handgun owners. I can’t fathom how that would be constitutional when handgun ownership is a recognized constitutional right.

          As for “endless greed,” Beretta isn’t that big a company, and the gun industry frankly isn’t that big either. Sure, every business wants to make a profit, but the idea that gun companies are uniquely greedy is something I’ve never found any support for.

          • RalphAdamo

            Is your car registered?

          • Ralph,

            Yep. However, there is no recognized constitutional right to own a car. Apples and oranges.

          • Terrence O’Brien

            Grapefruit? The Constitution does not say anything about a right to own a gun. It speaks of a right to keep and bear arms, and perhaps there is some court precedent that speaks of constitutional gun ownership rights. Cars were not around when the Constitution was drafted, but other property was, and the Constitution protects property ownership. If you buy a car and refuse to register it, it can’t be taken from you, and you can keep it, although it might be illegal to drive it. I think opposition to various registration schemes on Second Amendment grounds is weak.