“This firearm was created by John Moses Browning, who was a son of Utah pioneers,” said bill sponsor Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, in floor debate. “This firearm has preserved our nation; it has preserved our heritage. I think this is a very appropriate designation to capture state history.”
The bill has attracted national attention and some criticism in light of the recent Tucson, Arizona shooting that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Utah would be the first state to designate a state firearm. The bill passed 51-19.
Representative Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, was among those who opposed the bill.
“Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who would feel strongly that handguns are not inherently virtuous objects,” King said in floor debate. “Symbols by their very nature should be unifying, not polarizing.”
According to the State of Utah website, there currently are 23 state symbols, including a state cooking pot (the Dutch oven), a state insect (the honeybee) and a state dance (the square dance). A third of Utah’s state designations, including the state song, were submitted by children.
Representative Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, voted against the bill. She said state symbols are used to teach children about Utah history and government.
“I’m envisioning kids coloring, drawing pictures of and answering quizzes about a gun,” Moss said in floor debate. “I think we should honor John Browning. But I don’t think that this gun and this designation has any place in a list of those things that we honor.”
The gun in question, the M1911, was designed by Utah native John M. Browning. It was later used by the U.S. military in both world wars and the Korean War.
Browning’s father started manufacturing guns in Nauvoo, and when he came out west, the Browning company came with him,” Lemmon said. Browning was born in Ogden in 1855 and went on to produce several weapons for the U.S. military.
The Browning Automatic Rifle was used by the military, and models such as the Browning Parabellum have been used by international forces and NATO. This year is the 100-year anniversary of the military’s adoption of the M1911.
Browning was lauded earlier this year when January 24 was designated as John M. Browning Commemorative Day by the Utah legislature. Despite voting for the commemorative day bill, Wimmer said in House debates that alternatives such as a statue or yearly commemorative day would cost the taxpayers, and a state firearm designation was the least expensive way to honor John Browning.