Sunday, May 15, 2022

Montana Attorney General pays a visit to Bigfork weapons manufacturer

Bigfork Eagle | May 4, 2022 12:00 AM

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen stopped by firearms manufacturer Shield Arms at the end of April to congratulate them on their explosive growth and current expansion project.

Founded in 2017 by Brandon Zeider and Seth Berglee, Shield Arms began in Zeider’s garage and has expanded twice in the past four years. The Bigfork firearms manufacturer is set by the end of the year to move into its new multimillion-dollar, 36,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing complex.

Knudsen said he’s been friends with Berglee for many years, spanning from their time growing up together in eastern Montana to serving together in the state legislature. Berglee’s term is up this year, but has served as the state representative for District 58 since 2015.

As a firearm enthusiast who spends time hunting and shooting competitively, Knudsen said he’s pleased by Shield Arms’ growth.

“It’s really, really exciting to see these guys start a business just a couple of years ago where they were literally in a barn and now here they are not even five years later they’re building these giant buildings, they’re employing 40 plus people in the valley, just a fantastic success story. And their products are really, really cool — coming from a gun nut, they make some cool stuff,” Knudsen said.

The company’s first big breakthrough came with their Glock S15 magazine, which carries 15 9mm rounds instead of the usual 10. Shield Arms is bustling to expand and bursting at the seams in their current building. Berglee said they have stocked up on packaging and shipping supplies since supply chain issues have caused another challenge for the growing company.

“It’s an interesting time to really be in any market, but yeah, we’re in a good space in terms of innovation and products that people want,” Berglee said. “We’re trying to expand our abilities to keep up and provide something for the community.”

Shield Arms is potentially planning to double its staff of 40 people after the expansion is complete.

Zeider and Berglee gave a tour of their facilities to the attorney general and his staff, starting in their current office and ending up on the site housing the expansion. There are three buildings under construction currently: an operations building that will handle assembly and shipping, a building for product photography and other marketing needs, and a headquarters building.

Knudsen is a vocal advocate for gun rights and spoke out in support of House Bill 102, which allowed concealed carry firearms almost anywhere in the state without a permit. Sponsored by Berglee, the bill was signed into law last year but struck down by a state judge in December. Knudsen immediately appealed the decision.

“It was a great piece of legislation … I think it’s a fight that is absolutely worth making,” Knudsen said.

Knudsen referenced pushback the bill received from the Montana University System’s board of regents, who argued that it has the power to restrict firearms on campus. The Montana Free Press reported in May of last year that the board challenged legislation on similar grounds before, specifically in a 1975 lawsuit involving legislative limits on salary increases for university officials. In that case, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in the regents’ favor.

The fate of the law is now in the hands of the Montana Supreme Court.

Berglee echoed the same sentiments about challenges to his bill and referenced how other gun legislation in neighboring states might affect business. Recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that effectively bans the sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. That bill goes into effect in July, and Berglee said they are shifting gears to meet market changes.

“That’s one reason we’re expanding our product line,” Berglee said. “The new smaller magazine, the Z9 in the smaller pistol, it’s a nine round magazine, which means it’s legal to have in most banned states.”.

Knudsen said he’s impressed with the products Shield Arms manufactures and that the company’s growth is indicative of a larger trend in the state. He said he’s recently seen many firearm companies start-up in Montana or consider relocating here.

“Politics have changed, tax policies have changed, administrations have changed and these companies are looking for friendly environments and we want to make Montana one of those environments,” Knudsen said