Most states have official designated state flowers, state birds, and so on. Sometimes the "official state whatever" designations can get odd; Massachusetts has the corn muffin as its official state muffin, the slinky is the official state toy of Pennsylvania, and North Carolina has designated clogging as that state's official folk dance.
Now Utah is may become the first state with an official state gun, the Browning M1911; the Utah House passed this designation yesterday. (The state's Senate still has to vote on the measure.)
There's no question that the M1911 is a classic design. Also known as the Colt 1911 or Colt .45 ACP (Colt being the leading manufacturer of Browning's design), it was the standard-issue side arm for the U.S. armed forces from 1911 to 1985, is still carried by some units, and remains a very popular civilian gun. And it heavily influenced later semi-automatic handgun designs. It probably is appropriate for the state to honor the Utah-born inventor, John Browning, behind the design; and indeed it seems they already have a "John M. Browning Day".
But, not surprisingly, coming only weeks after the Tucson shooting, the designation has kicked up controversy. State Representative Carol Moss noted during floor debate that the primary audience for official state designations is school kids. The designation of a state gun "seems insensitive at this time when people are mourning the death of six people in Tucson and the serious wounding of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords – a friend of mine," Moss said.
Opponents of the bill suggested that a statue of Browning might be a better way to honor him, but State Representative Carl Wimmer, the bill's sponsor, said that a state designation made more sense because it wouldn't cost any money.
If Utah doesn't pass an official state gun bill, Pennsylvania may become the first state to do so, with a bill to make the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania long rifle an official state symbol. Since the Pennsylvania long rifle was a muzzle-loading flintlock, unlikely to be encountered today, I suspect this would generate much less controversy.
I am a gun owner and a supporter of the right to keep and bear arms. But on the other hand, I fully agree with Lao Tzu: "Weapons are instruments of ill omen; they are not the instruments of the princely man, who uses them only when he needs must." In this imperfect world in which we dwell, weapons are tools that are sometimes necessary, but we ought to be very careful about celebrating or glorifying them.