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Utah becomes first in U.S. to designate official state gun

By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Utah has become the first U.S. state to name an official firearm, placing an automatic pistol on a list of designated symbols, right along with the honeybee and the cutthroat trout.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law this week, designating the Browning model M1911 automatic pistol as the official state firearm.

The gun, which turns 100 years-old this year, is manufactured in Ogden, Utah.

"It does capture a portion of Utah's history," Utah State Representative Carl Wimmer, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told Reuters.

"Even bigger than that, it captures a portion of American history," Wimmer said.

The late John M. Browning, who founded the company that makes the gun, was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1855 and he lived until 1926. He designed the automatic pistol for the U.S. Army, which was bogged down in sporadic battles with guerrilla fighters in the Philippines and needed a quick-firing weapon.

The pistol was adopted for use by the Army in March 1911, which is how it got the name Model 1911. It was first combat tested by the U.S. military in Mexico in 1916, in the pursuit of bandit-turned-revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa.

Wimmer said Utah residents should be proud of the fact the Browning firearm has been used around the world.

"The governor signed it into law and Utah became the first state in the nation to have an official state firearm. Arizona will have their governor sign theirs into law later this week," he said.

Arizona lawmakers are partial to the Colt revolver, which they have proposed naming a state symbol, to honor their Western heritage.

Browning is credited with 128 gun patents and was key in development of automatic and semi-automatic firearms.

Utah State Representative Brian King, a Democrat, opposed the designation.

"When we are talking about a state symbol we would do well to come up with one that is more unifying than divisive and this is a very divisive symbol for obvious reasons," he said. "This is just a poor choice for a state symbol."

King said he would have preferred honoring Browning by putting up a statue.

Other Utah state symbols include the Dutch oven, Spanish sweet onion, the sugar beet, the elk and the cutthroat trout.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Jerry Norton)

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