Official State Guns


As Betsy Marston noted  in Heard Around the West recently, Utah lawmakers are considering  an Official State Gun: the .45-caliber M1911 semi-automatic pistol, designed a century ago for the U.S. Army and still in use by some American military personnel. It's also a popular pistol for target-shooting and concealed-carry. 

The Utah connection is that the gun's designer was John Moses Browning, an Ogden gunsmith. No matter how you feel about guns, it's clear that Browning was a genius with firearms, as he invented many successful weapons and cartridges, including the Winchester lever-action rifle that is almost as much an icon of the Old West as the Colt revolver. 

The M1911, designed by John Browning, is Utah's state gun. Image courtesy Flickr user miso beno.

So it's understandable that Utah would want to honor one of its more illustrious citizens in the centennial year of one of his best-known inventions. Even so, Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer sounded rather fulsome when he called the M1911 a device that "has defended American values and the traditions of this country for 100 years."
Other Western states can't claim a prolific inventor like Browning, but given that gun culture is strong out here, states might want to declare their own official guns.
And if they did, what would they pick? The gun that "won the West," as much as any single firearm did, was the Sharps .45-90 used by buffalo hunters. By wiping out the vast herds, they destroyed the sustenance of many Native American tribes, thus enabling settlement.
The Sharps of yore was manufactured in Vermont, but modern replicas  come from Montana -- which had its share of bison to be wiped out -- so the Sharps looks logical for the Treasure State.
As for New Mexico, it was the territory of Billy the Kid, who recently wasn't pardoned by out-going Gov. Bill Richardson. There are places that offer non-functioning replicas  of a revolver the Kid supposedly toted, but let's face it: by most accounts, Billy the Kid was a murderous sociopath.
Honor instead the man who brought him down, Sheriff Pat Garrett, with the gun he used, a Colt .44 single-action revolver with a 7.5-inch barrel. (This information is hard to find on-line, but my wife and I used to write Westerns, and I found this information in a reference book we used often then, Firearms of the American West, 1866-1894, by Louis A. Garavagli and Charles G. Worman.)
Wyoming's most famous gun battle was the Johnson County War of 1892. However, there were so many guns involved that it's impossible to pick just one, so anything that was on the market about 120 years ago ought to be eligible for Official Cowboy State Gun status.
For my own Colorado, I'll go with the Colt-Browning M1895 gas-operated machine gun, used to shoot down striking miners at Ludlow in 1914. Designation as the Official State Firearm would remind us how Colorado has often dealt with organized labor.
Until quite recently anyway, the most famous gun use in Arizona's history was the 1881 Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone. There were many kinds of firearms in use on that bloody day, but Doc Holliday's sawed-off double-barreled 10-gauge Meteor Belgium shotgun  might be the most prominent.
And since, outside of antiques, sawed-off shotguns are seriously illegal in the United States, it might be a good choice these days -- an Official State Gun that no one can own.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colo.


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