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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) war with the gun lobby continues to intensify, as a major firearms manufacturer has declared that it will not do business in West Virginia due to Manchin’s support for expanding gun sale background checks.

Barretta USA, the American subsidiary of one of the world’s oldest and most successful gun makers, announced Friday that it would not expand its operations into the Mountain State, despite West Virginia lawmakers’ considerable lobbying to lure the company to their state. In a letter to the Hardy County Rural Development Authority, Beretta’s general counsel Jeffrey Reh explicitly singled out Manchin and his failed attempt to expand background checks to cover all commercial gun sales as a reason for the Maryland-based company to avoid West Virginia.

“[E]specially due to Senator Manchin’s recent legislative choices we have decided not to consider your State for our future plans of expansion,” Reh wrote. “We know that anti-gun sentiments are not shared by everyone within your State but we are looking first and foremost for a widespread and stable place of political support in any potential location.”

“The fact that [Manchin] had portrayed himself as a traditional pro-Second Amendment politician before and appeared to switch so quickly…is what caused me to second guess the credibility of his convictions,” Reh added.

Reh also expressed disappointment that Manchin had partnered with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the bill, calling Schumer “one of the most anti-gun senators in the history of the country.”

Manchin ripped Reh’s decision in a statement released Friday.

“I believe that my legislation, which an independent poll just showed that 75 percent of West Virginians agree with, is a reasonable approach that in no way infringes on our right to bear arms,” Manchin said. “It’s shameful that Beretta, who seems to have no intention of moving from one of the most gun restrictive states in the country, is deceiving the great people of West Virginia in attempting to score a political point.”

It certainly seems as though Beretta may have scored a winning point in this political fight. Manchin is no stranger to political battles with the gun lobby — despite holding an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, he has been engaged in a prolonged ad war against the group since his background check push — but he may find a fight with Beretta much more difficult to win.

For all of the headlines that it wins, the NRA’s bark is certainly worse than its bite; the NRA spent $11,787,523 in the 2012 elections, and saw only 0.81 percent of that money result in its desired electoral outcome. Additionally, as Manchin noted in his statement, the vast majority of West Virginians (and Americans in general) side with reformers on the background check issue. In other words, there is little reason for Manchin to fear backlash from the NRA.

But in a slow economy, the headline that Manchin’s background check push cost West Virginia thousands of jobs could have far more potency. While Manchin himself doesn’t face re-election for five more years, other West Virginia gun reformers could be dragged down by the charge. And if other gun manufacturers follow Beretta’s lead and refuse to do business in states that are represented by reform advocates, then they could create a powerful motivation for politicians in close races to back away from gun reform plans.

Photo: Third Way via Flickr.com

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