SALT LAKE CITY — The House voted 51-19 to designate a state firearm Wednesday, an effort to honor Utah gunmaker John M. Browning on the 100th anniversary of his famous pistol.
The sponsor of HB219, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said state symbols are intended to showcase items of historical importance to the state.
Wimmer said naming the 1911 semi-automatic gun still in use by the military and law enforcement the official firearm of Utah is "a very appropriate designation to capture a portion of the state's history."
But House Democrats and a few Republicans questioned the move, which apparently makes Utah the first state in the nation to have an official firearm.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake, said the designation seemed insensitive, especially following the shootings in Arizona that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., seriously injured.
Moss said Giffords is a personal friend and cited instances in which family members have been shot and killed.
"Many people have a negative experience with guns because guns do kill people" when they're in the wrong hands, she said.
Moss also argued that Utah school children often study the state symbols. "Kids have coloring books and puzzles with the designees," she said, describing them now faced with a gun alongside the state bird, flower and other symbols.
Wimmer and other representatives, however, cited the guns used to save lives by war heroes over the past century. Such stories, Wimmer said, should be taught to Utah school children.
Another opponent of the bill, Minority Assistant Whip Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, suggested a statute might be a better way to honor Browning.17 comments on this story
"There are a lot of things we shouldn't do when we are talking about symbols that are inherently divisive," King said, adding a lot of people don't see guns as "virtuous objects," but as "tools of death."
Wimmer said the designation was the cheapest way for the state to recognize Browning's contributions.
He urged House members to see the "huge difference between the actions of a madman, using a firearm which is neither good or bad," and "patriots using a firearm to defend our country."
The bill now goes to the Senate.