Utah lawmakers divided over designating pistol as state gun

By Josh Loftin
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY - State lawmakers are debating whether to designate a semiautomatic pistol as the official gun of Utah, despite protests from people who say they think it's inappropriate because of recent mass shootings.

The bill to make the Browning M1911 the official gun breezed through a committee hearing this week and is scheduled to be debated by the full House as early as Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Carl Wimmer told the committee that the state should have the gun as one of its state symbols to honor John Browning, a Utah native who invented it in 1911.

"He invented a firearm that has defended American values and the traditions of this country for 100 years," Wimmer said.

Utah has 24 state symbols recognizing the history, geography and culture of the state. They include a cooking pot, a tree, a hymn and a folk dance.

The House Political Subdivisions Committee approved the bill to add a state gun in a 9 to 2 vote.

Wimmer said the Browning M1911 is widely used by the military, police officers and private people, which is why he chose the pistol instead of another Browning gun.

Gun Violence Prevention Center board member Steve Gunn said honoring the M1911 is wrong because the people who opened fire in most recent U.S. mass shootings used semiautomatic pistols. That includes the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson in which six people were killed and 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), were wounded with a Glock pistol.

"It's an embarrassment to the state to have as a symbol that was used only a few weeks ago to kill innocent people," Gunn said.

House Minority Leader David Litvak (D) said that although he opposes designating a state gun, the Arizona shooting did not give the debate any urgency.

"We need to be careful about using that tragedy to push a political position," Litvak said.

He suggested that the state honor Browning in a way that focuses on his many inventions, not just one of his guns.

Jennifer Seelig, who voted against the measure, House Bill 219, said she did not see the debate as pro- or anti-gun. Instead, she said, it is about the message sent by the state having such a polarizing symbol.

Seelig said that she supports gun rights and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon but that like Litvack, she would prefer to honor Browning in a different way.

- Associated Press

© 2011 The Washington Post Company