During an official, one-time-only holiday honoring legendary Utah gun-maker John Moses Browning, a House committee voted 9-2 on Monday to endorse a bill to declare his M1911 handgun as the official Utah State Firearm.
But an anti-violence advocate told the Legislature that sends the wrong message about Utah to the world.
"Semiautomatic pistols are the weapons of choice for those who are committing massacres" such as the recent shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others in Tucson, testified Steven Gunn, a board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah. "Is this the time to adopt as a symbol of the state the same kind of weapon used to kill all these people?"
Only Democratic Reps. Jennifer Seelig, Salt Lake City, and Marie Poulson, Cottonwood Heights, opposed the bill in the House Political Subdivisions Committee. Seelig said that especially because Utah would be the first state to adopt an official state firearm, "In terms of what we want to be known for, no, I'm not voting for this."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, however said he does not view the gun as a symbol or implement of death.
"It's an implement of freedom that has defended America for 100 years. … This firearm is Utah."
While Gunn (who noted that his name is ironic for a critic of the bill) painted verbal pictures of mass-murderers using such weapons, Wimmer said he prefers to remember that the M1911 was used by military heroes such as Alvin York and Audie Murphy.
Committee members overwhelming sided with Wimmer and praised the bill, which was endorsed by several gun rights groups.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said, "I think John M. Browning has single-handedly saved more American lives on the battlefield than any other American." He added, "Handguns in general do not kill people … it's the person behind the trigger that kills people. We need to stop demonizing firearms in this country."
The bill now moves to the full House. The action came on John Moses Browning Day at the Capitol, where he was honored with speeches, guns, soldiers and even an Apache helicopter flown in by the National Guard.
The Legislature last year designated Jan. 24, 2011, as a one-time holiday to honor Browning. The original proposal sought for Browning Day to share Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but was moved a bit to the day after hisJan. 23 birthday as civil rights groups protested honoring a gun-maker the same day as King who was assassinated by a gun.
The Capitol rotunda on Monday featured displays of handguns, machine guns, shot guns, riles and other firearms invented by Browning some displayed by men wearing vintage World War I uniforms.
Browning "had a great deal to do with us as a nation and the wars we fought in," Gov. Gary Herbert told a noon celebration. "We recognize his efforts to preserve the Constitution."
The governor signed a proclamation honoring Browning, and gave it to the gun maker's great-grandson, Christopher Browing. He, in turn, gave a special copy of the Browning M1911 to Herbert and the state.
That handgun is probably Browning's most famous invention, and was used by the U.S military for 70 years and is still used by some units. Christopher Browning said his great-grandfather sold the patent for such guns for next to nothing to help the World War I effort.
Herbert noted that Browning had 128 patents for different firearms, from cannons to handguns. He said he also built Browning firearms into an important Utah company. "He was one of the great entrepreneurs in our state," Herbert said.