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Another Year of Living Violently

Thoughts from the New England Regional Organizer

On January 8th, a man, armed by NRA-backed laws and fueled by right-wing rhetoric, shot and killed 6 people and wounded 13 others with a semiautomatic handgun in Arizona. Less than three weeks later, Utah's House of Representatives responded by passing a bill naming the Browning-designed M1911 semi-automatic handgun the official state gun. The proposal has now passed the Senate in amended version, and is waiting for sign-off by the House. The gun joins the Dutch oven, the beehive, and the sego lily as official symbols of the State of Utah. State Representative Carl Rimmer, Chief Sponsor of H.B. 219, stated this gun had “defended American values and the traditions of this country.” This language echoes many a speech by militia groups and lone gunmen as they armed to “take back the country” from the government.

Responding to criticism of the bill, Rep.Stephen Sandstrom offered that, instead of the gun being blamed for killing people, it should be credited for saving lives on the battlefield. He apparently is not aware that guns save the lives of some on the battlefield by killing others.

According to federal law enforcement data, semi-automatic handgun sales soared during the past month, especially in Arizona and neighboring states, like Utah. The incident fueled a national debate over weaknesses in state and federal gun laws, and this debate, say gun dealers, has stoked fears among buyers that stiffer restrictions may come down from Congress. [i] Arizona gun dealers say the Glock 19, the gun used in the Arizona shootings, is among the biggest sellers.

In the meantime, the so-called “drug wars” are armed by weapons from the United States. Since 2006, more than 60,000 weapons used in Mexican crimes have been traced back to the U.S.[ii] Meanwhile, the School of the Americas (WHINSEC) continues to train Latin American soldiers and security forces, many of whom eventually are found guilty in courts of law of horrific human rights abuses, including kidnappings, torture, and executions. "My own government," said Martin Luther King in his 1967 sermon entitled Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam is “the greatest purveyor of violence today.” [iii] Forty-three years later, this is still true. The fact is that military expenditures are an even greater part of the federal budget now. [iv]

A Salt Lake Tribune op-ed published on January 31st, stated that “adopting the M1911 leaves the door open for another state to adopt another, bigger example of Browning’s work as its own state gun.” It went on to say, “We can close off that opportunity to top Utah by selecting Browning’s M2HB heavy machine gun first.” So, Utah expects competition in the instrument-of-violence-as-state-symbol arena. They will probably get it.

The current bill recalls a Utah Senate debate from just a year ago this month. Sen. Mark Madsen proposed a “John Moses Browning Day,” for the inventor of automatic weapons, including the Brown-designed M1911. He further proposed that it be paired with Martin Luther King Day to avoid the cost of adding a separate holiday. Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins said it’s appropriate to honor Browning, and he personally does not see a conflict with doing so on a day that already honors a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was himself shot to death. “Guns keep peace,” Jenkins said.

Susan Letendre

[i] One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent to 263 on Jan. 10 compared with 164 the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. Handgun sales rose 65 percent to 395 in Ohio; 16 percent to 672 in California; 38 percent to 348 in Illinois; and 33 percent to 206 in New York, the FBI data show. Sales increased nationally about 5 percent, to 7,906 guns. Federally tracked gun sales, drawn from sales in gun stores that require a federal background check, also jumped following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed.

[ii] “How Thousands of U.S. Guns Fuel Crime in Mexico,” Grimaldi, James, Jan. 5, 2011,

[iii] Listen to the entire sermon.