AYNOR - Welder Jamieson Woodard leaned against a table a good way beyond the semi-circle of television cameras Monday as Gov. Nikki Haley got her commemorative, semiautomatic rifle from PTR Industries.
Woodard is part of the contingent of employees who transferred to Horry County when PTR left Connecticut because of restrictive gun laws passed by its state legislature.
The law, written in reaction to the killing of elementary school children and teachers in Newton, Conn., bans the sale of the guns that PTR makes.
"Not only did it put us out of work," Woodard said of the law, "it was the little guys that really got hurt."
During Monday's ceremony, Haley promised PTR that South Carolina would never politicize gun ownership, and those are the kind of words that have helped the company and its employees feel they've been received with open arms.
"People here are a lot friendlier than they are up North," Woodard said.
Woodard has lived in Horry County for six months, and during that time, PTR has hired 26 locals to help the 24 transferees make weapons like the one presented to Haley, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said during the ceremony.
Gun sales now are down nationally from last year, PTR CEO Josh Fiorini said before Haley arrived at the company's plant in Cool Springs Business Park.
The gun business, like many, goes through ups and downs, and Fiorini said gun sales tend to pick up during times that limitations on gun ownership make the news. It may be nice to have the extra sales, but Fiorini said he'd prefer having about five years of steady sales that stay pretty much the same from year to year.
It's hard to plan and staff for sales that suddenly soar, and steady sales would give management the steady pace that is most efficient.
Fiorini said the Aynor plant, PTR's new headquarters, can make 1,500 firearms a month. Demand has been so strong for them that at one point last year, the company had backlogged orders for 76,000 guns.
The South Carolina commemorative gun follows other limited serial number models the company has produced, Fiorini said. Company officials thought that a special South Carolina edition could continue that marketing path as well as show appreciation for the welcome the company has gotten in the Palmetto State.
"When we had that idea," he said during the ceremony, "we thought we'd make a dozen of those, 20 tops."
As of his speech around noon Monday, he said, the company has received orders for 276 of the rifles.
The company has plans to produce 1,000 of the commemorative guns, which have an outline on them of South Carolina with a Palmetto tree and crescent moon inside.
The one presented to Haley on Monday is even more exclusive, one of a kind.
While the commemorative guns will be stamped with a serial number from 001 to 1,000, Haley's edition is stamped "SCGOVNH."
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