As most of Utah's school kids hopefully know, the state's cooking pot is the Dutch oven, its state fish is the Bonneville Cutthroat trout and the state song is called, "Utah, This is the Place." Now, they may soon have to add a semiautomatic hand gun, the Browning M1911, to their homework on state symbols.
In one of the most controversial state symbol designations since Alabama in 2006 attempted to name the peach the state fruit (amid protests from its neighbor Georgia, the Peach State), the Utah House voted on Wednesday to honor Utah-born John Browning, the M1911's inventor, by naming the semiautomatic hand gun America's first state gun.
In a country that's increasingly embracing gun rights over gun control, the gun as symbol of defending freedom and Utah values may be understandable. But coming less than a month after a suspect allegedly used a semiautomatic gun to open fire on a congressional meet-and-greet in Tucson, Ariz., the gambit also met with concerns about the appropriateness lionizing a deadly weapon.
The Browning M1911 became an official Army sidearm in 1911, and was first tested in action in Mexico as the US Army chased the Mexican raider Pancho Villa after his attack on Columbus, N.M, in 1916. Known as one of the most enduring pistol designs in the world, it was used by police and military all over the world, and is still in circulation today.
Critics: A state symbol that 'kills innocent people'?
But not everyone in Utah is keen to single out a gun as something that symbolizes the Beehive State.
Utah state Rep. Carol Moss, a Democrat from Holladay, worried during a floor debate about the primary audience for state designations: school kids doing projects about their state.
“Someone once gave me this advice – don’t speak against guns," she added. "Now I’m going to break that advice. It 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.”
Steve Gunn, a board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center, told the Associated Press: "It's an embarrassment to the state to have a symbol that was used only a few weeks ago to kill innocent people."
Sponsor: It's a symbol 'values and traditions'
Opponents suggested a statue of Mr. Browning might be a better choice. State Rep. Carl Wimmer, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said a state designation made more sense since it wouldn't cost the state any money.
He added: "There is nothing about the actions of a madman to change the fact that firearms have been used throughout our history to defend American values and traditions."
Pennsylvania is also in the chase to become the first state to elevate the gun to a state designation. A bill in Pennsylvania's state senate aims to make the mid-18th century Pennsylvania long rifle, a technological milestone in gun innovation for its range and durability, an official symbol.
Though the Utah House passed the Browning designation, the Senate still has to approve the bill. The House version passed primarily along party lines, with all but two Republicans voting in favor and every Democrat voting against. Republicans took control of the Utah Senate in November. The state also ha a Republican governor.