Ed Quillen: Writers on the Range
Let’s hear it for Utah, poised to add an Official State Gun to its already rich collection of official Bee Hive ornaments, which includes a state rock (coal), state flower (sego lily), state dance (square) and state cooking pot (Dutch oven). Utah is considering honoring a semi-automatic pistol, the .45-caliber M1911 that was adopted in 1911 by the U.S. Army. It’s still in limited use by American military personnel and remains a popular civilian gun.The Utah connection? It was designed by John M. Browning, 1855-1926, a gunsmith’s son who grew up in Ogden and went on to create some of the nation’s most popular firearms, among them the lever-action Winchester rifles that symbolize the Old West as much as the Colt revolver.So it’s understandable that Utah would want to honor a native son in the centennial year of one of his best-known inventions. Even so, Republican state Rep. Carl Wimmer might be overdoing it when he calls Browning’s gun “a firearm that has defended American values.”Other state legislatures, especially here in Gun Country – aka the American West – will doubtless feel heavy pressure to designate their own official firearms now. But there’s a small problem: No other state has produced anyone with a rsum like Browning’s. So what guns should those less-fortunate states select?For Alaska, there’s an easy answer. In 2009, then-Gov. Sarah Palin got a gift from the National Rifle Association Foundation. It’s the “Alaskan Hunter,” a custom-built .50-caliber assault-style rifle with the state’s map etched on its collapsible stock. It can probably down a moose at 400 yards.California has many contenders, from the Smith & Wesson Model 36 carried by fictional Los Angeles Detective Joe Friday on “Dragnet” to the .44 magnum Dirty Harry brandished as he told a Bay Area punk to “Go ahead, make my day.”Oregon and Washington just seem too civilized these days to consider an Official State Gun, but neighboring Idaho has several contenders. Among them is the .30-40 M1892 Krag used to suppress striking silver miners in 1899. But a more modern Official State Firearm might be the HS Precision sniper rifle used in 1992 by FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi to kill Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge.If there’s any one gun that “won the West,” it would be the .45-90 Sharps rifle, used by the buffalo hunters who nearly exterminated the beasts. That slaughter deprived the Plains Indians of their sustenance, forcing them onto reservations and out of the way of white settlement.The Sharps of yore was made in Vermont, but Montana has a firm that makes modern replicas. Plus, the Treasure State had abundant bison before the Sharps arrived, so it fits well.New Mexico could claim the atomic bomb as its Official State Weapon, since it was developed at Los Alamos. But if we stick to firearms, the Land of Enchantment was the territory of Billy the Kid, who used a variety of guns. By many accounts, though, he was also a murderous sociopath, so a better choice might be a Colt .44 single-action revolver with a 7.5-inch barrel. That’s what Sheriff Pat Garrett used to kill the Kid.The big fight in 1892 in Wyoming was the Johnson County War. But there were too many guns involved to pick just one, so anything that was on the market 120 years ago should qualify as an Official Gun of the Cowboy State.The “Great Coalfield War” in Colorado was the deadliest labor struggle in American history. Thus the Official State Gun should be the M1895 Colt-Browning gas-operated machine gun, used to shoot down striking miners at Ludlow in 1914. Its official status would remind us how Colorado has often felt about organized labor.Nevada is home to Sharron Angle, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate who famously proposed that her supporters consider adopting “Second Amendment solutions.” But she hasn’t announced which “solution” she prefers. So Nevada could designate the .30-caliber M1 carbine. That’s the gun used to kill Bugsy Siegel, builder of the Flamingo Hotel and founder of modern Las Vegas, in 1947. Granted, the still-unsolved murder happened in California, but the Nevada connection seems strong enough.Historically, the most famous shooting in Arizona was the 1881 Showdown at the OK Corral in Tombstone. Many kinds of firearms were in use on that bloody day, but Doc Holliday’s sawed-off, double-barreled, 10-gauge Meteor Belgium shotgun might be the most prominent.Outside of black-powder antiques, sawed-off shotguns are seriously illegal in the United States, so it might be an ideal choice these days – an Official State Gun that no one can carry.
Ed Quillen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Salida, Colo.
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