SALT LAKE CITY — Ogden gunmaker John Browning won't share a state holiday with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"We don't want to go where we're not wanted," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain. "I had an idea to honor an international icon and a favorite son of Utah and got backed into race politics."
After the proposal surfaced Wednesday, local NAACP leader Jeanetta Williams said it was "a very mean-spirted act" to consider honoring a gun manufacturer on the same day as King, who was shot and killed by an assassin.
Even Madsen's fellow Republicans had their doubts. Madsen's bill to establish the Browning holiday was discussed during Thursday's closed-door Senate GOP caucus.
"I think there was a general feeling among the caucus members that we look at a different date," Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said, adding he was not surprised about the controversy.
Madsen, though, said he thought Browning, born in January, was a good fit with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrated on the third Monday of January.
"Both made tremendous contributions to individual freedom and individual liberty," Madsen said, noting Browning's contribution toward winning World War I, a 1911 model handgun.
It's the same type of gun that Madsen, a concealed weapons permit holder, carries daily under his jacket into the Legislature. "It really revolutionized firearms," he said.
Madsen said he's now looking at celebrating Browning on another established holiday such as Pioneer Day, Veterans Day or Labor Day.
Before he finalizes the language of his bill, SB247, Madsen said he'll meet with groups associated with the holiday, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A spokesman for the LDS Church had no comment on the possibility Browning would be associated with the annual July 24 celebration of the Mormon pioneers who settled the state.
"The church doesn't own Pioneer Day," Madsen said. "It is a state holiday. It's within the prerogative of the Legislature to decide which holidays are which. To the extent there is an affinity, we want to respect that."
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