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Mustafa and Demir Demirhisar owned a printing shop that struggled during the recession. They needed another revenue source and looked to the gun industry, given their growing interest in shooting as a hobby. Just as they opened, the shooting in Newtown, Conn., occurred and sales took off.(Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)Buy PhotoCONNECT>TWEET> 1 LINKEDIN 2 COMMENTEMAILMORE
When executives from Italian gunmaker Beretta USA were looking to expand their U.S. manufacturing base, the first step was to make a list of gun-friendly states.
"The first bright-line criteria was (is) it a state not only that was pro-gun, but that was likely to be pro-gun for many decades or generations to come," said Jeff Reh, general counsel for Beretta.
It was not until after they assessed the political climate that they turned their attention to what most corporations prioritize: tax rates, workforce quality, education system, climate and proximity to their current base in Maryland. Tennessee rose to the top of their list, and in 2014, the company announced that not only would it be expanding in Gallatin, but it would move its entire operations there.
Across the nation and in Tennessee, the gun debates center around reducing violence and the Second Amendment. To some, firearms are a symbol of freedom and self-protection; to others they are a threat to safety that puts innocent children and bystanders at risk. But to an increasing number of Tennesseans, guns mean jobs.
Statewide, there are more than 1,500 businesses licensed for firearm sales, with 45 in Nashville. Beretta has estimated its new, $45 million plant will add 300 jobs in Middle Tennessee, positions that won't be going to Maryland.
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The reason goes back to attitudes toward guns, Reh says. The anti-gun climate in Maryland's legislature makes investments in that state too risky. Even with the heavy costs of moving facilities and equipment, it is preferable to reside in a state that is unlikely to restrict its operations.
"We worried about our future viability in our state," he said. "Rather than manufacture in a state that might potentially ban our products or had exhibited a consistent anti-gun animus, we decided to look in a state that was more pro-gun."
Reh is referring to legislation proposed by former Gov. Martin O'Malley that banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The measure passed through a Senate committee without including an exemption for manufacturers. While an exemption was added before it became law, it was enough to make Beretta concerned, Reh said.
In Tennessee, where pro-gun bills have sailed through the General Assembly in recent weeks, Beretta executives can rest easy about any anti-gun legislation getting to the governor's desk, and not just because of the sentiment reflected by lawmakers. Even at the car rental check-out counter, Beretta officials got a warm reception from their constituents, reassuring them that Tennessee political winds would not shift anytime soon.
"They were very welcoming, very supportive, and that was consistent," Reh said.
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Tennessee's gun-friendly climate was also attractive to North Carolina-based Remington Arms Co. The arms manufacturer scouted the state last year, but ultimately decided to expand in Alabama. Still, the company has built a local presence in Nashville. It hosts the "Remington Hometown Hero Nights" at Bridgestone Arena that offers discounted Predators tickets to active duty and retired military, police, nurses and firefighters, and advertises its brand there with a camo-clad, Remington-labeled Zamboni machine.
Tennessee is among a handful of Southern states that together have begun threatening the Northeast's reputation as "Gun Alley," said Brian Ruttenbur, a research analyst at CRT Capital in Stamford, Conn. As Northern states have passed laws restricting guns in response to the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., the South has been passing bills that do just the opposite. States such as Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas have stood out with their tax climate, skilled workforce and their openness to the firearms industry.
"(Gun companies) are going to continue to go to the South," he said. "Over time, Gun Alley will continue to shrink, and those top four states — Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina — will be the biggest beneficiaries."
The gun market in Nashville is thriving as well. Regal Range, a 40,000 square-foot firearms training center, indoor shooting range and gun shop, is planned for the former Regal Bellevue Cinema. On track to open its retail portion next month and its shooting range by August, it will be the city's largest operation of its kind.
Co-owner Anthony Folk said he and his partner had recognized a need for a range in the Bellevue area and were able to find investors to support their business as perceptions toward gun owners have changed.
"A lot of people would go out and buy guns and not want you to know that they had a gun," he said. "They didn't talk about having a gun, they didn't walk around with their gun. Now people are more open to say, 'Yes, I do own a gun.' "
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For Nashville brothers Mustafa and Demir Demirhisar, opening the Nashville Gun Shop in 2011 was a way to supplement their income during the economic downturn that rocked the printing industry. They ran a lithography shop on Antioch Pike and wanted to run a second business that aligned with their personal interests. At the time, that was guns.
"Guns were our hobby," Mustafa Demirhisar said. "Our main idea was we should do something we enjoy."
Shortly after they opened their gun and ammunition business, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary unleashed a national debate on gun laws, and sales skyrocketed. While the heavy demand has since ebbed, the gun and ammunition shop has remained the Demirhisar brothers' more profitable business amid a steady flow of first-time gun owners in the Nashville area who tend to buy more firearms over time.
"Most people start with self-protection," Mustafa Demirhisar said. " Once they find out how much fun it is, they start investing more money, more time in it."
Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter @JamieMcGee_.
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Economic impact of sporting arms and ammunition in Tennessee
Economic impact of sporting arms and ammunition in Tennessee
•1,531 direct jobs
•$73.5 million in direct wages
•$49,476 is the average wage
Source: National Shooting Sports Foundation 2012 Firearms and Ammunition Industry Economic Impact report
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Source : http://www.tennessean.com/story/money/industries/2015/04/10/gun-friendly-climate-means-big-business-tennessee/25549257/