July 23, 2014
Beretta USA announced a couple months back that it would open a new factory in Gallatin, Tenn., that would employ 300 workers and produce a variety of new products. At that time, Beretta stated it would keep its current factory in Accokeek, Md., in production.
Now the other shoe has dropped. Beretta announced this week that it would move all firearms production to Tennessee once the Gallatin plant is up and running, costing 160 jobs in Accokeek.
For those of you who have never been there, Accokeek is southeast of Washington, D.C., on Indian Head Highway. The factory was originally built by long-defunct importer Firearms International in the 1960s. If you've ever seen an F.I. Bronco .22 rifle, that was one of the guns made there. F.I. imported Beretta firearms before being absorbed by the old Garcia importing company in New Jersey.
When Beretta got the contract to make the M9 pistol, it needed a U.S. manufacturing facility, and the old F.I. plant was available. State and local officials were not a bit more pro-gun then than they are now, but the chance to get a piece of a fat government contract meant that greed won out over principle once again. Thirty years ago, Accokeek was a pretty remote rural enclave, and there was much self-congratulation by local politicos about bringing good skilled jobs to a depressed area.
The county executive of the time crowed that he had wrested an agreement from Beretta not to make "Saturday Night Specials" at Accokeek, and that the plant would almost entirely make guns for the military and law enforcement. That's not the way it worked out, of course, but he got his brag in the Washington Post, which was the important thing to him.
Well, fast-forward three decades and the area around Accokeek is now wall-to-wall suburbs. In the late 1990s, Beretta acquired Benelli and moved the headquarters for it, along with smaller brands like Franchi, Stoeger and Uberti to the Accokeek location, which is now a vastly larger facility than it was when I first saw it in the 1980s.
Beretta will keep the white-collar jobs at Accokeek, while the factory jobs migrate to Tennessee, and I suspect that's just peachy with local pols, who need the votes of minivan-driving soccer moms more than those of machine operators and forklift drivers. Many of the shop floor workers will be offered the chance to follow their jobs to Tennessee, where the cost of living and taxes are a lot lower than they are in Maryland. There will be a lengthy transition period, since Beretta has announced it will finish current government orders for the M9, hundreds of thousands of pieces, at Accokeek.
So it's all good, right? Beretta moves production to a pro-gun state, workers who want to go can move somewhere cheaper, and anti-gun Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a would-be 2016 presidential candidate, gets a black eye for losing factory jobs.
All true, but it's not good: 160 jobs sounds like a lot until you consider a McDonald's employs about 100. For O'Malley, losing 160 jobs is an inconsequential price to pay for being able to say he beat the NRA. The 2016 Democratic nominating process is shaping up as a race to the left, and nothing burnishes your street cred with the lounge Bolshevik set like a victory on gun control.
O'Malley shed a crocodile tear or two, but make no mistake: this is publicity he can and will use.
Once Beretta is gone, remaining gun companies like Adcor in Baltimore and LWRCI in Cambridge, which don't have the backing of a large multinational conglomerate, will be all the more exposed.
Anytime this subject comes up, there are loud and lusty voices on our side to say that all gun companies, and indeed all gun owners, should just shake the dust of California or Connecticut or Massachusetts off their feet and move to some gun-friendly jurisdiction like North Carolina or Texas or South Dakota. We should just concede certain parts of the country to the other side and build impregnable redoubts in the South and West.
Sorry. That's exactly the moral equivalent of someone in 1950 telling blacks in Alabama the solution to segregation was to move to Chicago. If rights are rights, they have to be rights everywhere. You cannot think your rights are safe in Wyoming if your brother's rights aren't safe in Colorado. As the French found in June 1940, playing defense is the best way to lose.
So congratulations, Gallatin. Sorry about that, Accokeek. Beretta made the right business decision. But it's not a decision to celebrate.