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 UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.