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MARTHA SEZ: It’s official? Really?

February 10, 2011
Last week a news brief on the car radio caught my attention. The Utah State Legislature was considering designating the Browning M1911 semi-automatic pistol its state gun.


I couldn’t believe I’d heard correctly. In Arizona, a gunman had just gone on a murderous shooting spree with a glock, a semiautomatic pistol. It hardly seemed possible that legislators of any state would be naming an official state gun at this moment.

Intrigued, during the days that followed I learned as much as I could about the proposition.

States of mind, points of view and differences in perspective vary from person to person, from political party to political party and from one part of the country to the other. I learned that to the state legislature of Utah — or at least to its Republican members — making the Browning 1911 a state symbol was not bizarre at all.

State Congressman Carl Wimmer said the plan had been in the works for a year or more, and had nothing to do with the Arizona shooting. John Browning, the creator of the pistol in question, was a resident of Utah and an important contributor to the state’s history.

“He invented a firearm that has defended American values and the traditions of this country for 150 years,” Wimmer said.

A Democratic Utah State Congresswoman suggested that the weapon has also killed people, and that perhaps it would be better to honor Browning for some of his other accomplishments. Not everyone agreed with her.

Why, one might ask, does Utah even need a state gun?  We hear about state flowers and state birds—but state weapons?

Utah is the proud possessor of 24 state symbols, including a state cooking pot—the dutch oven—and a state dinosaur—the Allosaurus.

Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana also have official state dinosaurs. New York does not.

You can learn a lot about a state from its official symbols. Take beverages, for example. The beverage of New York and many other states is milk. Alabama’s, on the other hand, is Conecuh Ridge Alabama Fine Whiskey. For  Florida, it’s orange Juice, Maine Moxie soda pop, Nebraska Kool-Aid, Massachusetts cranberry juice, New Hampshire cider and Indiana water.

New York’s reptile is the snapping turtle, while Arizona and West Virginia designated rattlesnakes, and Louisiana and Florida chose alligators. Massachusetts’ reptile? The harmless garter snake.

State amphibians include a plethora of frogs, toads, salamanders and newts. New York does not have an official state amphibian.

Oklahoma and Virginia have state bats, while Texas has designated an official Lone Star State flying mammal, the Mexican free-tailed bat. You might think New York has an Empire State bat — say, the little brown. You’d be mistaken.

For official state sports, Alaska has designated dog mushing, Hawaii surfing and outrigger canoeing, Maryland jousting, Kentucky tug-of-war, Colorado skiing and snowboarding, New Hampshire skiing and South Dakota and Texas rodeoing. New York has no official state sport.

The official dance of Hawaii is the hula. Kentucky’s is clogging, Wisconsin’s the polka, North Carolina’s shagging and South Carolina’s the more decorous Richardson waltz. New York: no official dance. (What is our government in Albany DOING, for heaven’s sake?)

Nothing highlights the unique characteristics of our states better than their official foods. You’ve heard of grits (Georgia) and key lime pie (Florida),  but what about sugar cream pie (Indiana)? Or sugar cane jelly, mahew jelly and Nachitoches meat pie (Louisiana)?

Massachusetts has an official doughnut, the Boston cream doughnut, an official bean, the navy bean, and an official dessert, Boston cream pie.

For South Carolina, it’s boiled peanuts, for Texas chili, tortilla chips, salsa and pan de campo, or cowboy bread.

Oklahoma has an official state meal, consisting of fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecued pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas and pecan pie.

New York’s official muffin is the apple muffin.

Several states have official soils. Wisconsin even has its own official bacterium, Lactococcus lactis, used to produce cheddar, colby and Monterey jack cheese.

Utah is the beehive state. Other nicknames: Alaska Seward’s icebox and land of the midnight sun, Arizona the baby state and Italy of America, Georgia the cracker, goober or buzzard state, Indiana the playground of the Midwest, Kentucky the hemp and tobacco state, Missouri the show me state, Nebraska the bug-eating state, Texas the lone star state, Wyoming the cowboy state.

I don’t know whether the Utah Legislature will OK the Browning semiautomatic or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised anymore either way.

Have a good week!



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