Arizona choses official state gun
Welcome to Arizona; please shoot carefully. And if you really want to blend in with God-fearing locals, you may also want to be in possession of a cowboy hat, a sunburned neck, and at least one revolver, tucked into the waistband of your denim trousers.
In a move that can best be described as interestingly-timed, given tragic recent news events in the city of Tucson, Governor Jan Brewer this week signed into law a landmark piece of legislation that will give Arizona an official state firearm.
The Colt Single Action Army Revolver (also known as the "Peacemaker") will now join an eclectic list of items supposed to best reflect the unique history, landscape, and culture of the desert state. They include an official tree (the Palo Verde), breed of butterfly (Swallowtail), variety of gemstone (Turquoise), and wild-west-friendly type of neckwear (the bola tie).
Ms Brewer refused to comment on her decision to sign the bill, which was proposed by Republican lawmakers and backed by both gun manufacturers and the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. However supporters claim it reflects the affection felt by some of Arizona's most famous natives towards Colt firearms.
Todd Rathner, a lobbyist employed by Colt, helped write the bill signed by Brewer. He told reporters that the gun is "historically important to the founding of the state and to the survival of the state." It was, he added, used by generations of Arizona Rangers.
Arizona, which has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the developed world, now becomes the second US State to adopt an official weapon. The decision to formalise its status reflects the strength of gun culture among locals. On any given day roughly 40 per cent of them are capable, to use common vernacular, of "packing heat."
The move also follows a trend. Earlier this year, neighbouring Utah became the first state to gain an official firearm, plumping for a semi-automatic pistol. Gun enthusiasts are now hoping to introduce similar measures across the nation. The National Rifle Association is vigorously lobbying lawmakers in Pennsylvania, for example, to plump for a long rifle.
Yet the growing idolisation of deadly weapons has also sparked heated debate, at a time when Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is still recovering from being shot in the head during an attack which left six dead and 15 injured outside a shopping centre in Tucson.
Her alleged assailant, Jared Lee Loughner, had previous convictions for drug possession and was suffering from mental illness. He was nonetheless able to legally purchase his weapon, an automatic Glock from a local gun store. The relaxation of gun laws under George W Bush also allowed him to buy an extended ammunition clip, doubling the number of rounds he was able to fire before being subdued.
Supporters of Ms Giffords have described the creation of a "state firearm" as an insult to the victims of that attack. They also say that it is a waste of legislative time, and is providing free publicity for a private company which doesn't even boast any employees in Arizona.
"This is a free advertisement for Colt," said Republican Senator Adam Driggs, noting that the legislature is currently facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall. "If the state is going to go in this direction, I think we should get the equivalent of naming rights."
It has further upset supporters of native Navajo Indians, who say the Colt was used as a tool of genocide by white settlers to drive them from their ancestral lands. Albert Hale, another Democrat, said it had been promoted by lawmakers "who are more concerned about their own agenda" than the impact it might have on Native American communities.
"If you want to symbolize something and shove that into the faces of the victims, this is it," Mr Hale said. "This gun symbolizes extinction and extermination. To glorify this action and act as if a John Wayne movie is real history is very disturbing."
One of the lawmakers who wrote the bill creating the official firearm is Russell Pearce, a Republican who was also behind Arizona's controversial anti-immigration bill, which was deemed unconstitutional by a court last year.
Mr Pearce did not address the controversy this week, but shortly after the shooting of Giffords he achieved fame by appearing on television to claim that "guns save lives," arguing that if only an armed citizen "prepared to take action" had been present during the shooting "lives could have been saved".
It later emerged that Joe Zamudio, one of the onlookers who helped subdue gunman Jared Lee Loughner at the scene, was actually armed at the time. Mr Zamudio came within seconds of shooting the wrong man, wrongly identifying a fellow bystander as the assailant.
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