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State senator to Beretta: Come make guns in Utah

Published May 20, 2013 3:00 pm

Utah Legislature • Stephenson pushes tax breaks to lure Beretta, other gun companies.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Sen. Howard Stephenson just messed with Texas.

The Draper Republican, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, opened a bill file at the Legislature to lure Beretta and other gun manufacturers to Utah through tax incentives after the iconic gun maker announced that strict gun-control laws just passed in Maryland will force Beretta to bolt that state.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has openly courted gun companies to relocate to the Lone Star State.

Titled "Shelter From The Storm: Utah's Opportunity," Stephenson's blog on the state Senate website (senatesite.com) suggests the prospect of eliminating sales tax on machinery, equipment and replacement parts used in the gun-making process.

"My initial proposal will be to reduce obstacles and offer incentives to gun manufacturers located in the Beehive State," Stephenson writes. "This is an exciting opportunity for Utah. ... "

The senator, who co-hosts a radio show called "Red Meat Radio," invited other Utah lawmakers to discuss the legislation during last weekend's Republican State Convention.

"Where there are fugitive arms manufacturers, we want to tell them 'Utah is open for business,'" Stephenson said in an interview Monday.

So far, roughly a dozen lawmakers from both houses have verbally agreed to co-sponsor the bill, the Senator said, adding, "everybody I've talked to says, 'Sign me up.' "

"It could mean thousand of new jobs and considerably more tax base. These types of manufacturers are not going away," he said.

Beretta has paid $31 million in Maryland taxes, employs 400 people and has invested $73 million, according to the company's general counsel Jeff Reh.

"The idea now of investing additional funds in Maryland and thus rewarding a government that has insulted our customers and our products is offensive to us," Beretta posts on its blog, "so we will take steps to evaluate such investments in other states."

The Maryland law, signed last week by Gov. Martin O'Malley, bans some assault weapons, limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds and mandates fingerprinting before a gun purchase.

It comes in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, where 20 first-graders were killed in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, making it one of the strictest gun-control measures in the nation.

The law bars the company's ARX 100, Beretta's new civilian version of the ARX 160, a tactical rifle used in Italy.

"Why expand in a place where the people who built the gun couldn't buy it?" Reh has said about pulling up stakes.

Beretta, which warned the Maryland Legislature it would leave if the law passed, has not yet said where the company will relocate.

Beretta is not alone. In the wake of more restrictive gun laws, Colt Competition, which makes AR-15-style rifles, moved from Connecticut to Texas. And Magpul Industries, a top manufacturer of gun magazines and parts, has announced its intent to leave Colorado based on legislation seeking to ban high-capacity magazines. Magpul has mentioned Utah as a potential destination.

Sheriffs from 54 Colorado counties recently sued to block the state's gun-control laws.

Stephenson notes he has a list of legislative co-sponsors for his tax-incentive bill. "I'm anxious to continue this discussion," he writes, "and I hope that the other state legislators will find me and sign on to this opportunity for Utah."

djensen@sltrib.com