SALT LAKE CITY — An Apache helicopter and a firearms display greeted visitors and lawmakers on the opening day of the Legislature to honor a renowned Utah gunmaker, and a bill designating one of his creations the state firearm advanced.
Gov. Gary Herbert declared Monday as John M. Browning Day in recognition of the Ogden native's contribution to the gun industry for both recreational and military uses.
"Having the headquarters in Utah is something we're proud of," Herbert said, adding Browning arms, based in Morgan, helped "protect our homeland and the Constitution of the United States."
"This pistol is Utah," the sponsor of the legislation honoring the firearm and its maker, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, told the crowd. "Its history is emblazoned on our state."
Wimmer said some have criticized the proposal as "glorifying an implement of death" but that's not his intent. "We're glorifying an implement of freedom that has defended us for 100 years."
Later, members of the House Political Subdivisions Committee passed Wimmer's HB219, which would designate Browning's 1911 automatic pistol as the state firearm.
Two members of the committee, Reps. Marie Poulson, and Rep. Jen Seelig, both D-Salt Lake, voted against the bill, questioning whether Utah would be hurt by being the only state to designate an official firmarm.
"I don't want our state to be the poster child," Seelig said, noting that while Browning's invention could be praised for saving lives of the soldiers and others who have used it over the past 100 years, it has also taken lives.
Wimmer said the bill would have no more impact on the state's image than other designations made over the years, including the dutch oven as the official cooking pot, but he called it "an appropriate honor."
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the designation, but gun-control advocate Steve Gunn said the designation should be rejected because "semi-automatic pistols are the weapons of choice of those who are committing massacres," including the recent shooting in Tucson that killed six and left a congresswoman seriously injured.
Wimmer said he has been contacted by lawmakers in Arizona interested in his bill since the shooting. He told reporters after the meeting "the actions of a madman" could not be compared to "the actions of honorable patriots who served their country and used the firearm to defend American values and freedom."
At the rally on the Capitol steps, lawmakers, gun enthusiasts and military leaders lauded Browning's contributions to the United States being able to conquer its enemies and save many American lives.
"It really makes you wonder where our military power would be without John Browning," said Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield. "I think it would be quite a ways back."
Browning, born Jan. 23, 1855, developed many varieties of firearms, cartridges and gun mechanisms, many of which are still in use around the world. He is one of the most important figures in the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms and is credited with 128 gun patents.
"The military weapons were his least favorite guns to work on, except for the big noise," said Browning's great-grandson Christopher Browning.
He described his great-grandfather as a hard worker who didn't have more than an eighth-grade education. John Browning, he said, always maintained he invented the .50-caliber machine gun on "one drop of genius and a barrel of sweat."