The Barrett .50 caliber rifle is a powerful gun. Widely used in the military, its rounds can "penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars," according to a report from the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety group. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence describes .50 caliber rifles like the Barrett as "among the most destructive weapons legally available to civilians in the United States."
And as of Wednesday, the Barrett .50 caliber is now the official state rifle of Tennessee, joining an illustrious roster of other state symbols including the raccoon (state wild animal), the tomato (state fruit), and Tennessee cave salamander (state amphibian).
The gun's inventor, Ronnie Barrett, is a Tennessee native and NRA board member who was referred to as "the rock superstar in the world of weapons" at a 2014 birthday bash attended by politicians Mike Huckabee, Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn and others. The rifle bearing his name is manufactured in Christiana, Tennessee.
Tennessee is the seventh state to declare an official state firearm of some sort. If the idea of an "official state gun" seems a little strange, that's because it's a recent development. There weren't any state firearms until 2011, when Utah adopted the Browning M1911 pistol as its state gun.
Since then, Pennsylvania added the colonial-era Pennsylvania Long Rifle as its official firearm. West Virginia adopted an 1819 flintlock rifle. Indiana legislators were very particular in naming their state rifle -- they settled on one specific gun crafted by the state's first sheriff.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arizona named the Colt revolver -- "the gun that won the West," depending on whom you ask -- as its state gun in 2011. And Alaska named the Winchester 70 its state gun in 2014.
In supporting Tennessee's designation of the Barrett .50 caliber as the state's official rifle, Republican state Sen. Mae Beavers noted that the gun "honors Tennessee's ingenuity and manufacturing." But the gun's considerable firepower makes it a formidable threat in the hands of the wrong person.
In the 1993 gun battle at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., for instance, the cultists "fired a .50 caliber semiautomatic rifle at agents attempting to execute a search warrant," according to a GAO report. In 2013, a suspect in a police standoff in Fond du Lac, Wis., fired several .50 caliber rounds during the incident, prompting police to call in a BearCat armored vehicle.
Overall, the gun safety group Violence Policy Center has identified at least 46 instances of .50 caliber guns being used in criminal activity. The public is generally uncomfortable with the widespread availability of these guns. In 2006, the General Social Survey found that 85 percent of Americans supported a ban on civilian sales of .50 caliber rifles.
Currently, however, .50 caliber rifles are unregulated at the federal level. California and D.C. ban the guns outright, while Connecticut and Maryland place some restrictions on them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
A previous version of this story misstated the original use of the Barrett gun. It has been been corrected.