Beretta will expand their expansion announcement from earlier in the year. Now, they'll move ALL manufacturing to new facilities being built in Gallatin, Tennessee.
The most memorable quote from Beretta U.S.A.'s announcement they were moving a part of their manufacturing to Gallatin, Tennessee earlier this year was a flat observation about the notable Italian family's attitude: "Beretta's don't bluff."
They proved that point Tuesday afternoon with the announcement that the were expanding the scope of their planned expansion into Tennessee. Now, the entire manufacturing operation will be packing up and heading to Gallatin sometime next year, taking everything except the corporate HQ to a climate where the political environment would be less toxic for a company that manufacturers firearms known the world over.
Tennessee's gain is, once again, at the expense of a state seen as anti-gun. Being in Massachusetts this week to preview and test new products from Smith & Wesson, it was interesting to get a look into the minds of S&W's employees and managers. The majority of everyone I spoke with expressed little surprise that a company like Beretta wouldn't hesitate to move to friendlier surroundings.
It's becoming a familiar story through what was once renowned as America's "Gun Valley" as companies fed up with everything from overburdened union labor agreements to ridiculous regulations and a hostile political environment are heading out in what Texas Governor Rick Perry has called a timely migration to friendlier climes.
The sad part of the process is that with each of the move announcements, longtime workers are impacted while the politicians whose ill-conceived eyewash legislative actions pay none of the costs associated with running jobs and tax revenues out of their state.
Meanwhile, it's the opposite problem in the Springfield, Massachusetts headquarters of Smith & Wesson. Their massive production facility is essentially maxed out, with dozens of computerized manufacturing machines cohabitating with milling, grinding and polishing machines that were very likely to have been running since shortly after World War II.
That, however, doesn't mean S&W's considering moving. After all, they have other manufacturing facilities including Thompson/Center's former HQ and Deep River, the Smith & Wesson holdings company that handles the injection molding for the myriad of polymer-based S&W and Thompson/Center firearms.
First on the review agenda (above), the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard -with laser sighting system. The .38 special model is steady, features a long trigger press and fairly short reset, and is surprisingly mild to shoot, despite its light weight and the ability to shoot +P rounds. The Bodyguard 380 (Below) suffers very little discomfort when shooting and takes advantage of the terrific advances in bullet technology in the past few years.. Both feature firearm specific Crimson Trace lasers designed to prevent you from having to worry about the sight picture in an emergency situation. Jim Shepherd photos.
As a result of what Smith & Wesson Director of Marketing Paul Pluff calls the "gigantic expansion" of interest in shooting by new shooters, the company is working to keep up with a domestic demand that has lessened- some- but is still a long way from turning back into the typically slow summer months.
There are, according to S&W's Paul Pluff, some new normals in the firearms business, particularly the personal defense firearm . "Where new buyers in the past used to buy a gun and box of shells and stick both in a sock drawer, today's shooters aren't putting them up and forgetting they own them," Pluff told writers on Tuesday, "now, they're getting instruction, concealed carry permits, mixing with their friends at the ranges and in many cases buying their second, third or even fourth gun.
"Those people are where the ammo demand is coming from," Pluff says, "along with the delays we're facing in filling orders. But they're gradually closing those dates."
It's hard to ignore the fact that new shooters are helping drive the bus when it comes to gun sales. "Long guns and hunting handguns," Pluff explained, "traditional guns, have been in a bit of a slow spot when compared with self-defense handguns and AR-style rifles."
So solid has that growth been, he explained, that somewhere between 32 and 35 % of all gun sales are first time buyers. Those first-timers, according to S&W research, are fueling an overall sales bump where 75 percent of all sales have been in the personal defense/black rifle categories.
And the revisions to the Bodyguard line are reflections of that trend- and manufacturing improvements that make better guns possible without increasing demands on workers or equipment. With the addition of Wilsonville, Oregon-based Crimson Trace's lasers on those new guns, Pluff says the line moves under the Military & Police line - the higher-end personal defense, duty and competition line.
Among some of the improvements over prior Bodyguard lines are some very subtle changes inside the laser housing. In the models we've been testing, the small screws that are typical in the small-diode lasers are captive, joining the Bodyguard 380's captured recoil spring. What's that mean? "Well," says Pluff, "it doesn't mean you'll be crawling around on your hands and knees looking for tiny screws or a spring that's flown across your cleaning area."
The changes are more pronounced in the Bodyguard Revolver. It's still a five-shot .38 Special that's capable of shooting the +P lines, but despite it's very familiar outline and resemblance, it's definitely not the traditional S&W J-frame revolver.
"This gun is a next generation one," Pluff explained, "it has an ambidextrous thumb cylinder latch that's in a totally new position compared to the J-frame, and it's not a one-piece frame, it's an aluminum frame and barrel shroud with a steel reinforced polymer lower."
And it's worth knowing that Smith & Wesson's forays into polymer aren't exactly new. In the 1960s the company produced test guns made of a delryn plastic with a steel barrel liner. They didn't go into production because that plastic, unlike polymers, couldn't take the strain of shooting and split after approximately 500 rounds.
"We've always been an innovative company," Pluff says, "and we're far from done with the innovations."
According to our schedule, we'll see the latest new product from the company tomorrow -but we won't be cleared to talk about it for several weeks.
When we can, we'll keep our promise: we'll keep you posted.
- Jim Shepherd