The ongoing national discussion about firearms restrictions, gun rights and public safety has inevitably encompassed local economics, as a Morgan Hill semiautomatic weapons manufacturer has decided to move part of his operation to Nevada out of fear that proposed California laws might prohibit his current business model.
“My concern is the state (of California) is running into a buzz-saw when it comes to taxes and regulatory scenarios for the common business man,” said Jay Jacobson, President of Franklin Armory in Morgan Hill. “In our line of work, it’s even worse. Having a facility in Nevada is an opportunity for us to not have all our eggs in one basket if the legislature sits down and writes a law that, with the stroke of a pen, puts us out of business.”
Franklin Armory manufactures a variety of semi-automatic rifles, pistols and associated accessories - including the AR-15 which has gained significant notoriety in recent months. The facility has been in Morgan Hill for more than 20 years, employs 11 people, and ships in parts from several different vendors to assemble the final product, Jacobson explained. The local facility is in the city limits, but Jacobson prefers to keep his exact location unknown to the general public.
The AR-15 model has been under intense scrutiny since December 2012, when Adam Lanza used a version of the weapon to shoot and kill 26 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. And earlier this month in Santa Monica, John Zawahri allegedly used a similar firearm - a .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle that he made himself - to kill his father, brother and three strangers. The gun used by Zawahri would already be classified as illegal under current state law, according to news reports.
Jacobson worries specifically about two proposed California laws that would make the AR-15, in a current common configuration with a detachable ammunition magazine, illegal. Under the proposed laws - SB47 (proposed by Sen. Leland Yee) and SB374 (proposed by Sen. Darrell Steinberg) - such firearms would be classified as “assault weapons,” and current owners would be required to register their AR-15s. New semi-automatic rifles would require permanent ammunition housings or “clips” that cannot be removed from the firearm.
These two laws affect the end product - which Franklin Armory produces - and not the many component pieces of the AR-15, Jacobson explained.
Jacobson said Franklin Armory will “still be employing folks here, but we might have to do final assembly in Minden, Nev.,” where he plans to open the new facility. At least some of Franklin Armory’s workforce in Morgan Hill would likely have to move to Nevada, where there are virtually no state laws restricting gun ownership, sales or manufacturing.
Jacobson does not plan to close Franklin Armory’s Morgan Hill operations, and he said City Hall staff and local police have supported the operation.
State Senator Bill Monning, who represents the 17th district which includes Morgan Hill, said he is “sympathetic” to the proposed laws’ impact on manufacturers and gun shows, but he supports SB47 and SB374 out of concern for public safety.
“The weapons themselves are not banned (if the law is adopted). It is the rapid ejection clips and the massive ammo clips designed for combat use and to spray kill,” Monning said. “I don’t think those have a place in local communities, nor in hunting for that matter. I’m looking at the broader public safety for the state of California, and I do believe the impact would be minimal on a weapons manufacturer.”
California Assemblymember Luis Alejo, who represents the 30th district which includes Morgan Hill, said it’s difficult to predict or determine the legislation’s “exact impact” on manufacturers such as Franklin Armory, but he noted the intent of the law which seems to be to “curb violence and keep our families safe.”
“I know public safety is of critical importance to my constituents, and I look forward to hearing from them and voting in their interest when given the opportunity to vote on these bills,” Alejo said in a statement.
But these two proposed laws and other restrictions already on the books in California result in higher costs for consumers and manufacturers, and the current trend seems to be moving toward even more regulation that does little to deter violent crime but heavily restricts the rights of “honest citizens,” Jacobson said.
“(SB47 and SB 374) attack basic sporting weapons, and try to outlaw them,” Jacobson said. “Criminals will still get their guns, and have them in configurations that are completely illegal. This legislation will have no affect on public safety - it will just restrict the honest citizen from their God-given right by being a citizen of this country.”
Expanding to Nevada will also keep Franklin Armory’s options open for the production of firearms and equipment for research and development, military and law enforcement markets, Jacobson said.
Franklin Armory’s website includes a section on the labyrinthine state laws that restrict “assault weapons,” and explaind how the company’s products comply with these laws. “We specialize in producing legal firearms for restrictive jurisdictions such as California,” reads a section of the website.
One of Franklin Armory’s retail vendors - Lokey Firearms in Morgan Hill - isn’t worried about the proposed new restrictions or any indication of a groundswell for more restrictions.
“They've banned all this before, and in California we'll continue to buy sell and shoot whatever they allow us to, as long as we can,” Lokey Firearms Ryan Lokey said. “If we can only sell hunting rifles and shotguns, then so be it.”
In fact, Lokey said sales at his shop - where he caters to law enforcement and AR-15 sport shooters, among other sectors of the civilian market - have gone “through the roof” since the national and statewide discussion about new gun restrictions fired up in December.
“Obama is the best gun salesman of all time,” Lokey chuckled.
But on a more serious note, Lokey said it’s for all the wrong reasons that consumers are in a rush to purchase firearms. “They fear they won’t be able to get them (in the future), and that’s not right,” he said.