GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — Italian gun maker Beretta on Friday celebrated the opening of its new manufacturing and research facility in suburban Nashville and announced that it will begin making the U.S. Armed Forces M9 handgun at the plant this summer.
Tennessee lured Beretta's firearms manufacturing from Maryland after the company raised objections to a wide-ranging gun control measure enacted there in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut that left 26 dead.
"Firearms are an important part of the culture in the United States, the culture of the outdoors and self-defense," said Franco Gussalli Beretta, the executive vice president of Beretta USA. "So we were thinking it was important to develop our future business in a part of the country where all these concepts are clear and respected."
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who lauded the decision to choose Tennessee, said after the ceremony in Gallatin, about 30 miles northeast of Nashville, "They had questions about staying in Maryland because they didn't really feel appreciated there." Haslam added, "Obviously in Tennessee we take great pride in the Second Amendment and we were proud to have a company like Beretta move here."
Tennessee provided more than $10 million in capital and training grants as part of the incentive package to bring the $45 million facility to the state. About 75 people are working at the new facility now, and that number is expected to grow to 300 in the next few years.
While all manufacturing of handguns, shotguns and rifles will now be located in Tennessee, Beretta is keeping administrative, marketing and sales operations in Accokeek, Maryland, which is about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C.
Beretta has made the 9mm semi-automatic M9 for the Army since 1985. That contract runs until next year, and Beretta has made a bid to make the successor model.
The Army's lengthy list of requirement include an adjustable grip that can easily fit large or small hands and the ability to accommodate sights that make it easier to shoot in low light and laser aiming devices. The military also wants a gun that can be equipped with a suppressor, which muffles the sound of gunshots.
Beretta board member Jeff Reh said more than 80 percent of what the Army is seeking at a cost of $1 billion can be accomplished by modifying the current M9, while keeping the same caliber ammunition, training requirements and logistics.
"This is available now if they need it," he said.
The Army declined Beretta's proposal to use an updated version of the current gun, Reh said. But some political opposition has since arisen to the introduction of a completely new a gun over the cost, "so what ends up happening with that program, we don't know," he said.
Beretta has operated in Italy since 1526, and in the United States since 1977. The company's sales reached $430 million in the U.S. in 2015, out of $725 million sales worldwide, said Pietro Gussalli Beretta, the president and CEO of Beretta Holding.
"Now the flag of the Beretta Group is in Tennessee," he said.