Gov. Perry visits Bethesda, Md.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry visits with business owners in Bethesda. (Baltimore Sun / September 18, 2013)

Speaking outside a steakhouse in Bethesda on Wednesday where he met with Maryland business owners, Texas Gov. Rick Perry dismissed criticism of his visit to a gun manufacturer days after a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

"There's always anti-gun individuals at any time. The fact is that I'm a pro-2nd Amendment guy, Texas is a pro-2nd Amendment state and Beretta has been a great manufacturer in Maryland," Perry said. "They feel not only under appreciated, they feel under attack."

The Republican governor is visiting Maryland to bring attention to what he describes as the difference in business climate between "red states and blue states." The trip -- only the latest Perry has made to Democratic states across the country -- also has clear political undertones.

Both Perry and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley are potential presidential candidates in 2016. The two will debate each other CNN's Crossfire at 6:30 p.m. today.

Earlier in the day, Perry met with Beretta USA, the Accokeek-based gun manufacturer that floated the idea of leaving the state after O'Malley sought and won sweeping new gun controls in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The company has since said it plans to keep its plant in Maryland but may explore expanding elsewhere.

Jenifer Pauliukonis, Maryland head of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, called the timing of the tour "insensitive." Of 12 people killed in Monday's shooting, six were from Maryland.

"I just thought it was very disrespectful for him to not think about that and not appreciate that before he decided to tour the Beretta USA facility," she said. 

The tour of the company was not open to reporters.

Perry said Wednesday it was too early to announce plans by any business to move jobs to Texas, but he repeatedly argued that Maryland over-taxes and over-regulates its economy.

"In Texas we pray for rain," Perry said. "In Maryland, you tax it."

O'Malley has dismissed Perry's visit to the state as a publicity stunt, but he has also repeatedly drawn attention to it. He told a group of Democrats this month that he had not spoken with the 2012 presidential candidate since he "kicked his [expletive]" in a 2011 debate. O'Malley also penned a piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday comparing the economic policies of the two states.

"The governor of Texas has followed an economic model that is based on very low paying, and apparently ever-lowing paying minimum wage jobs," O’Malley said of Perry on Wednesday. "We’re building our economy from the middle out."

Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed.