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Italian gun maker Beretta to build manufacturing plant in Tenn.; says gun rights a factor

Franco Gussalli Beretta, a director of Beretta USA Corp., right, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam applaud during a ceremony at the state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, to announce a new firearms plant being built in the state. The $45 million manufacturing and research facility is planned to be completed this year and could create 300 jobs. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

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Franco Gussalli Beretta, a director of Beretta USA Corp., right, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam applaud during a ceremony at the state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, to announce a new firearms plant being built in the state. The $45 million manufacturing and research facility is planned to be completed this year and could create 300 jobs. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Italian gun maker Beretta said Wednesday that Tennessee's support for gun rights was a major factor in its decision to build a manufacturing and research facility in the Nashville suburb of Gallatin.

The $45 million plant is projected to be complete this year and create 300 new jobs.

Gun rights were "the first criteria for deciding to even consider a state," said Jeff Reh, a member of Beretta USA Corp.'s board of directors.

Reh spoke to reporters after a press conference that included Gov. Bill Haslam and Franco Gussalli Beretta, the company's executive vice-president and director, as well as lawmakers and city officials.

Reh, who led the site search, said there were some states considered that "respect Second Amendment rights," but they "didn't have the type of support that we saw in Tennessee."

Several states began wooing Beretta from Maryland after the company raised objections to a wide-ranging gun control measure enacted there last year. Company officials said Wednesday that they have reached capacity in Maryland, requiring the expansion elsewhere.

"We look forward to building operations here and being part of your community for many years to come," Beretta said.

The other site finalists were Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Last year, lawmakers in Tennessee passed and the governor signed a measure that allows people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked, including company parking lots.

When asked by a reporter if Beretta will allow its employees to keep guns in their cars at work, Reh responded, "if that's allowed by state law, yes."

Earlier this week, a proposal that seeks to do away with local government's power to decide whether to allow firearms in public parks advanced to a full Senate vote despite opposition from Haslam.

The Legislature in 2009 gave city and county governments the ability to opt out of a new law that allowed firearms in public parks, playgrounds and sports fields.

Under the current proposal, permit holders would be allowed to carry, unless there's a school function.

Haslam has expressed major concerns with the legislation, and reiterated that to reporters on Wednesday.

"My concern ... is this isn't just a Second Amendment right," he said. "It's also a question about how we determine what the owner's voice is and what happens to that property. In this case, cities and counties have bought those properties with their own tax dollars. And I think that's the proper place for a decision to be made, is according to who actually owns the property."

Reh said he's heard about the legislation, but hasn't had a chance to study it.

Beretta has operated in Italy since 1526. The family-owned company makes a variety of firearms, ranging from hunting shotguns to the U.S. Armed Forces M-9 pistol.

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