News Column

Utah Greets Gun Makers With Open Arms

April 3, 2013

Scott Schwebke

handgun and constitution

Utah is actively recruiting firearms manufacturers looking to relocate because of newly restrictive gun laws and proposals in their home states.

The Governor's Office of Economic Development is competing against 10 other states trying to lure Colorado-based firearms accessory and magazine manufacturer Magpul Industries Corporation and a handful of other companies, GOED spokesman Michael Sullivan said Tuesday.

"The Governor's Office of Economic Development's Corporate Recruitment team, along with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, which is our private-sector partner, are reaching out to arms manufacturers considering moving from their current locations," he said.

Utah is an ideal location for firearms companies, Sullivan said.

"We have a large population of people who understand the Second Amendment and the proper handing of firearms," he said.

"We have our Western traditions. We respect that some residents would disagree (with recruiting firearms manufacturers), but overall, our state has been generally supportive of the industry."

So far, no manufacturers have committed to relocating to Utah.

"It's very expensive to pick up a company and move," Sullivan said.

Already at home

Utah has a lengthy history as a home for firearms manufacturers.

Renowned firearms designer John M. Browning was born in Ogden in 1855, and the Browning Arms Company is located in Morgan.

In New Hampshire, a group of conservative Republicans sent letters wooing gun companies. Politicians in Virginia and West Virginia have said they would welcome Beretta if it chose to leave Maryland. Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault, in a letter to the head of Magpul Industries this week, said he read "with shock and disdain" reports of new gun laws in Colorado.

"Though many feel the actions taken by your state government were appropriate," he wrote, "we in Alaska do not."

When the debate over gun laws reignited after the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., critics of proposals to toughen state laws cautioned that gun manufacturers could move and take local jobs with them.

And indeed, now lawmakers and residents in a few states are using restrictions on guns recently passed and proposed elsewhere as an opportunity to attract affected businesses.

Work ahead

Whether their campaigns will work remains to be seen, and it may be beside the point.

Jeremy McGowan, of Buckhannon, W.Va., said he started a Facebook page, "Bring Magpul to West Virginia," with "very little hope" of actually attracting the company. He said he wanted at least to draw attention to the issues raised in Colorado and try to prevent something similar from happening in West Virginia.

"I don't think we are a minority at all," he said. "I think a lot of us feel we have been pushed in a corner."

He is joined in the movement by the House Republican Alliance, a group of self-described constitutional conservatives in the New Hampshire Legislature who are pitching the state as a haven for gun companies.

The group recently sent letters to Beretta USA Corp. in Maryland and Colt Manufacturing Co. in Connecticut. Both companies have voiced frustration with proposals in their states that aim to tighten background checks, as well as ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But the group has done little beyond write letters, leaving open the question of whether its pleas will bring any new business to the state. The group has not enlisted the help of the state agency that would traditionally handle outreach to companies elsewhere.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, said that's because group members see it as an extension of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, whom they have also not reached out to. And neither gun maker has written them back.

It's about jobs

Baldasaro rejected the notion that courting gun companies could be seen as a cynical attempt to capitalize on the gun debate.

"This is about bringing jobs to New Hampshire," he said Friday. "It has nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut or anywhere else."

His group noted that New Hampshire is already home to 80 firearm component manufacturers including Sig Sauer Inc., Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., Heckler & Koch USA, and its letters cited laws preventing restrictions on firearms manufacturing.

Such restrictions drew the ire of a Beretta executive at a recent hearing in Maryland, where an assault weapons ban has been proposed. The bill spurns Beretta's long-standing commitment to the state, Jeff Reh, a member of the company's board of directors, told lawmakers.

Those types of complaints from firearms companies leave lawmakers in their home states pulled between responding to the hunger for more restrictive gun laws and wanting to keep their constituents employed.

Maryland's Senate president pointed to work lawmakers have done this year to try to help Beretta while also keeping important provisions of the bill intact.

"We've allowed them to manufacture," said Thomas V. Mike Miller, who represents the district in which the Accokeek factory is located. "We've allowed them to sell, and we've cut back on their paperwork."

Much more than that awaits Beretta and its employees in New Hampshire, the Republicans there promised. The state does not have an income tax or sales tax, and is known for gun advocacy.

"It would be a win-win for any gun company to move here. We're the 'live free or die' state," Baldasaro said, citing New Hampshire's motto.

Connecticut moves

Meanwhile, Connecticut lawmakers have agreed on a bipartisan measure that would ban sales of semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the Newtown school massacre and require background checks on buyers in all firearms transactions.

"In Connecticut, we broke the mold," Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, said Monday in Hartford, referring to the measure's cross-party support. "That is a message that should resound in 49 other states and in Washington."

Williams, a Democrat, said the measure is "the strongest in the country and the most comprehensive."

It would bar sales of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and put about 100 more weapons on the banned roster. The accord, if enacted, would add Connecticut to a growing list of states passing new controls following the Dec. 14 Newtown massacre of six educators and 20 youngsters, including Emilie Parker, the daughter of Robbie and Alissa Parker, both of whom graduated from Ben Lomond High School in Ogden.

The proposed law also would require gun owners to get a certificate from the state to buy bullets. To obtain the document, a resident would have to submit to a criminal background check. The sales ban would start upon enactment of the measure, which may occur this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Source: (c)2013 Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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