Special: The guns, history and business of Beretta was invited to Beretta’s Maryland factory, and as fate would have it I write for the website and live just a few hours south of the factory, so on an unseasonably beautiful March morning, I packed up my gear and headed over the Potomac to see what’s stirring at the world’s oldest firearms manufacturer.

How does Beretta do it?

Beretta is defined by its ability to sustain 500 years of tradition while pushing firearms innovation. They impact two distinct markets: sporting shotguns and semiautomatic pistols. And with the company’s acquisitions, such as Benelli, Tika, Sako, and Uberti, Beretta controls a substantial chunk of the diverse world of firearms.

Many firearms companies find a successful product and then stick to their guns.  Maybe it’s stubborn management.  Maybe it is our fault.  Customers tend to demand the same thing we know and love—like the audience at a Springsteen concert in 2012, praying The Boss will play Glory Days.

Is Beretta stuck in their ways?  Hardly.  Some of their designs, like the Monobloc in their break-action shotguns, work so well that they don’t need much attention.

Their pistols’ evolutions are easier to see.  The current production line, especially the M9/92, can be traced backwards through the 20th century to the M1951 and M1922—all the way back to the M1915.

But even the pistols have subtle design refinements.  The rotary barrels in the PX4 line eat up recoil.  The recoil buffer in the 96A1 and 92A1 decreases shock to the system and prolongs the life of the entire weapon.

The Nano is a new take on Beretta’s concealed carry brand image.  The 9mm Nano ups the ante and Beretta’s planning on taking a bite out of the 5.56 market with the ARX-160.

Still.  I knew that much about Beretta before my arrival in Accokeek, so I wanted to know how Beretta gets away with their more radical innovations.  What drives a company that is defined by this sense of tradition to take the risks that allow Beretta to compete so effectively today?

It’s not what you see coming out from Beretta that makes them so unique

The Nano and the ARX-160 are two of many projects at Beretta.  The stateside factory continues to increase production, add jobs in this economy and take risks.

Keeping the M9 contract helps.  Beretta’s built the weapon for close to 30 years now and there is no sign of the M9’s demise.

Beretta is updating their facilities.  As production technology ages out, new machines are being brought in that are smaller and smarter.  This allows Beretta to increase production without expanding their footprint.

But there’s still more.  The last few years have seen a diversification of marketing strategy and an expansion of staff.

But before we move forward, we have to deal with the past…

Final thoughts

At the end of my visit to the Beretta facility, I felt a bit puzzled. I learned a lot and the things we talked about were all current events at Beretta. The Nano. The ARX-160. The continuation of the M9 contract. All business-as-usual for the Beretta USA. But there was something under the surface. Something brewing. Strange things are afoot.

One sure sign is this little bit of parting news: Beretta is scaling back production of their pocket line. The Bobcat, Tomcat, and Cheetah will either be retired or run in very small numbers. They simply aren’t competing with the sea of tiny .380s and pocket 9mms.

So put the pieces together. These dedicated production lines will stop making the cat guns. But they won’t stop. They will make something.

And when I asked Ben Cook and Matteo Recanatini what will take the place of these weapons, they both look at each other conspiratorially. They know. And I can tell they’re itching to talk about it.

But not yet.

I left the factory with many unanswered questions. But I live in Beretta’s backyard, so I’ll be back. As soon as any news is available, I’ll be back.

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