SALT LAKE CITY — The birthday of famed Ogden gunmaker John Browning would be celebrated as a state holiday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day under a new bill.
SB247, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, has yet to be drafted but is titled "John M. Browning State Holiday."
According to Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, the holiday would be observed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday of every January.
King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated in 1968. Browning's birthday is believed to be around Jan. 21, and he died at age 71 in 1926. Jenkins acknowledged there is concern about celebrating both men on the same day.
Utah lawmakers had been criticized for beginning their annual legislative session on the same day as the King holiday until the state constitution was changed in 2008 to move the start date to the fourth Monday in January.
Then there is the question of whether a man who held 128 gun patents should share a holiday with a reverend who, before he was shot and killed, used non-violence to promote civil rights.
But Jenkins said, "Guns keep peace."
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake branch, said she was "furious" about the possibility.
"It is not acceptable for the name John M. Browning to jointly share the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday," she said. "Dr. King was assassinated by a man using a gun. John M. Browning was a gun manufacturer. … To me, it's a very mean-spirited act. I'm not sure what is behind doing all of this."
The NAACP has been involved with a number of legislative battles, particularly over the holiday's name and a recent fight to have the Legislature delay its start so as not to overlap with the holiday.
"I am extremely adamant about not making any changes to this holiday," Williams said. "We have fought too hard for this."
Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, also questioned the idea.
"There's probably many famous Utahns who might deserve their own day," she said. "Let's keep the day for someone who spent his life working in a peaceful manner for the goodwill of all Americans and not dilute the memory of his efforts."
Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser said Madsen is open to moving the Browning holiday to a different day. "His main purpose is to honor John Browning," Niederhauser said. "He's a pioneer here in Utah."
Holding both holidays on the same day was proposed as a money-saving measure, Niederhauser said. Madsen was not immediately available for comment.
Contributing: Aaron Falk