Updated, April 9, 2013:
The Texas Senate on Tuesday tentatively approved a measure by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, that would allow Gov. Rick Perry to offer economic incentives to gun manufacturers that want to move to Texas.
Some gunmakers have been considering moving to Texas in the wake of efforts in other states to crack down on gun ownership after a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school late last year.
"We're asking the governor to utilize the powers of his office to bring jobs to Texas," Estes said of Senate Bill 1467, which goes to the House after the Senate gives its approval.
Some Senate Democrats objected to giving Perry explicit economic incentive authority to recruit the gun industry to Texas.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said that lawmakers have been working to develop a consistent policy for state economic development, and the measure didn't align with that plan.
"This bill doesn’t appear to fit into our economic incentive analysis," Watson said.
Gov. Rick Perry speaks wistfully — almost lovingly — about a rifle he recently fired while he was at a range in Leander owned by the manufacturer LaRue Tactical. “I’m incredibly passionate about a well-made piece of equipment,” Perry said in a phone interview last week, “whether it’s an automobile or a weapon.”
After the visit, LaRue posted Perry’s results online. From 100 yards away, the governor took three shots and skillfully grouped them together — two shots hit the same spot — mere millimeters from the center of the target.
“That was pretty good wasn’t it?” Perry said, though he reserved most of the credit for the machinery. “If you don’t have a very well-made weapon, then I don’t care how steady your aim, how controlled your breathing or how smooth your trigger pull is.”
As debates over gun control intensify across the nation, Perry and some of his colleagues in the Texas Legislature are pushing to have more weapons of this sort made in the state. Perry said his office has sent letters to 34 different firearms and accessories manufacturers in other states, particularly where stricter gun and ammunition laws are being considered or passed, encouraging them to relocate to Texas.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz have made similar overtures to out-of-state companies, including Beretta USA in Maryland and Smith & Wesson in Massachusetts. The effort is not limited to a letter-writing campaign. State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has filed a bill that would formally add incentive programs for gun manufacturers to the state’s economic development statute.
“Gun manufacturers and people in that industry have been under attack by states who are threatening their Second Amendment rights,” Estes said. “We want them to realize that Texas is open for business and Texas is a gun-friendly state.”
When the legislation was considered recently before the Senate Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, no one testified against it. One committee member, Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, voted against the bill, but his opposition had less to do with guns and more to do with giving the governor what Uresti called “a blank check to offer a variety of tax exemptions and other incentives” to such manufacturers.
Uresti, whose committee vote means the bill will likely be debated by the full Senate, rather than sliding through on the little-scrutinized local and uncontested calendar, argued that any businesses desiring to move to Texas should share the full burden of financing state services.
“According to the comptroller’s office, such tax breaks this year will cost the state $37.7 billion and school districts $6.2 billion in lost revenue,” he said. “I’m not against attracting gun and ammunition manufacturers to Texas.”
Perry said he does not need legislation to use state resources to recruit businesses to Texas; his activities related to gun-makers are just a part of his overall economic development strategy.
But, he added, “often there are pieces of legislation that get filed that send a message.”
Even the state’s gun control advocates concede that Texas is gun-friendly.
Marsha McCartney, president of the Texas Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, conceded that Texas is “a few election cycles away from passing laws like they did in Colorado.”
Lawmakers there recently passed bills limiting ammunition magazine capacity and requiring background checks for all gun purchasers. The move prompted gun accessory manufacturer Magpul Industries to announce on Facebook that it would begin its “transition out of the state.” Perry has been courting the company heavily.
McCartney said she did not have particular concerns about more weapons-related businesses moving to the state. “I’m sure they will follow the laws in Texans,” she said, “just like all Texans will have to follow the federal laws.”
The success of Texas’ recruitment efforts may hinge on how the federal gun control debate shakes out.
“If there was a federal ban on certain types of firearms, it wouldn’t matter where you were,” said Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel for Connecticut-based gun manufacturer O.F. Mossberg & Sons. Bartozzi said support for measures that would curtail manufacturers appears to be waning in Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, President Obama delivered an impassioned speech aimed at breathing new life into the push for tighter federal gun laws. He referenced the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — not far from Mossberg headquarters — saying, “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
Connecticut is considering gun control measures that include a potential ban on assault weapons of the sort made by Mossberg.
“All things being equal, we don’t want to move,” Bartozzi said. “But we have to consider that the Legislature here could do things that make staying here very difficult.”
Bartozzi said he has received inviting letters from Perry as well as from local chambers of commerce throughout Texas.
Perry accused those who have responded to recent tragedies by proposing tighter gun restrictions of “playing politics” and erroneously blaming weapons for societal failures.
His recruitment effort, he said, was different. “We’re responding to the age-old situation of, ‘Go live where you’re most comfortable,’” Perry said. “If other states want to restrict component manufacturing, that’s their call. Texas wants to be a place where freedom is still very much alive.”
Mossberg & Sons already has a toehold in Texas. The company recently expanded its roughly 20-year-old facilities in Eagle Pass. “It’s coincidental,” Bartozzi said, “but it certainly takes on much bigger import now.”
Some companies are coming unprompted. Though no one recruited him, John Harrington, a native Texan, recently decided to relocate his company, Shield Tactical, from Orange County to Shiner.
In Texas, he said, “it’s an iota of bureaucracy.” In California, he said, “it’s like, before you put up your range, you have to be worried about whether the noise level is going to bother the 10-headed duckmouse.”
Harrington said he is not concerned about more competition moving in. After all, he said, Texas is among the world’s top 20 economies.
“If Magpul wants to come and move right next door to me,” he added, “I say bring it on.”