SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers are debating whether to designate a semiautomatic pistol as the official gun of Utah, despite protests from people who believe it's inappropriate because of recent mass shootings.
The bill to make the Browning M1911 the official gun breezed through a committee hearing this week and is scheduled to be debated by the full House as early as Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Carl Wimmer said the state should have the gun as one of its state symbols to honor John Browning, a Utah native who invented it in 1911.
"He invented a firearm that has defended American values and the traditions of this country for 100 years," Wimmer told the House Political Subdivisions Committee.
Utah has 24 state symbols recognizing the history, geography and culture of the state. They include a state cooking pot, a state tree, a state hymn and a state folk dance.
The committee approved the bill to add a state gun on a 9-2 vote.
Wimmer said the Browning M1911 is widely used by the military, police officers and private citizens, which is why he chose the pistol instead of another Browning gun.
Gun Violence Prevention Center board member Steve Gunn told The Associated Press honoring the M1911 is wrong because the people who opened fire in most recent U.S. mass shootings used semiautomatic pistols. That includes the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting in which six people were killed and 13 – including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – were wounded with a Glock pistol.
"It's an embarrassment to the state to have as a symbol that was used only a few weeks ago to kill innocent people," Gunn said.
Wimmer told the AP he had been planning the bill for about a year and the Arizona shooting did not change his mind.
"There is nothing about the actions of a madman to change the fact that firearms have been used throughout our history to defend American values and traditions," Wimmer said.
House Minority Leader David Litvak said while he opposes designating a state gun, the Arizona shooting did not give the debate any urgency.
"We need to be careful about using that tragedy to push a political position," the Democrat said.
He suggested the state honor Browning in a different way that focused on his many inventions, not just one of his guns.
Jennifer Seelig, who voted against the measure said she did not see the debate as pro- or anti-gun. Instead, it is about the message sent by the state having such a polarizing symbol, she said.
"It has a lot of deep-rooted, complex and complicated meanings on a wide spectrum, from defending life to taking it," said Seelig, also a Democrat.
Seelig said she supports gun rights and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But like Litvack, she would prefer to honor Browning in a different way.
Republican Rep. Stephen Sandstrom told the committee that recognizing the M1911 is an appropriate honor for Browning. Instead of the gun being blamed for killing people, it should be credited for saving lives on the battlefield, Sandstrom said.
"Tragic events happen because of bad people in this world. But handguns, and firearms in general, do not kill people," Sandstrom said. "We need to stop demonizing firearms."
The bill to designate a state firearm is H.B. 219.