On the production floor of Beretta USA sits a hulking new barrel-making machine ready to churn out the next object of obsession in America’s love-hate relationship with guns: a civilian version of a machine gun designed for special operations forces and popularized in the video game Call of Duty.
Beretta, the nearly 500-year-old family-owned company that made one of James Bond’s firearms, has already invested more than $1 million in the machine and has planned to expand its plant further in Prince George’s County to ramp up production.
But under an assault-weapons ban that advanced late last week in the Maryland General Assembly, experts say the gun would be illegal in the state where it is produced.
Now Beretta is weighing whether the rifle line, and perhaps the company itself, should stay in a place increasingly hostile toward its products. Its iconic 9mm pistol — carried by every U.S. soldier and scores of police departments — would also be banned with its high capacity, 13-bullet magazine.
“Why expand in a place where the people who built the gun couldn’t buy it?” said Jeffrey Reh, general counsel for Beretta.
Concern that the company will leave, and take its 300 jobs with it, is palpable among state lawmakers who worry it could be collateral damage from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed gun-control bill.
Among other restrictions, O’Malley’s bill would ban assault rifles, magazines with more than 10 bullets and any new guns with two or more “military-like” features. Gun experts said it’s a near-certainty that Beretta’s semiautomatic version of the ARX-160, now only a prototype, would be banned under O’Malley’s bill.