NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - While Tennessee lawmakers balked last year at making the Holy Bible the official state book, they showed little hesitance Wednesday in designating an official state rifle.
The Tennessee-made .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle now takes its place alongside other state symbols like the tomato as Tennessee’s official fruit, the cave salamander as the state amphibian and the square dance as the state folk dance.
Gunmaker Ronnie Barrett, a prominent Republican supporter, sold his first guns to the U.S. military in late 1980s and the long-rage weapons gained popularity during the Gulf War in 1991. The Murfreesboro-based company now supplies its firearms to law enforcement agencies, private citizens and more than 70 militaries around the world.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville cast the lone vote against the resolution that passed 27-1 in the Senate, arguing that it sets a “troubling precedent” for the state to make endorsements of private companies.
“If George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s came to us to be the official state whiskey, or Goo Goo Clusters and MoonPies wanted to be the official state dessert, anarchy might reign,” Yarbro said.
Yarbro also suggested that it might be more appropriate to honor the flintlock rifle used in the War of 1812 by the Tennessee volunteers who gave the state its nickname.
But Republican Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and the resolution’s main Senate sponsor, disagreed.
“The flintlock was developed in France by a Frenchman, the Kentucky long rifle was developed in Pennsylvania by German and Swedish men,” she said. “So I think it’s only right that we honor the ingenuity that Ronnie Barrett has had to develop this rifle.”
The House had earlier voted 74-9 to pass the resolution.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, also spoke in favor of the resolution.
“I love Goo Goo Clusters, I love Little Debbie cakes, and everything else - even Jack Daniel’s whiskey - that have come from Tennessee,” Ketron said. “However, none of them have saved the lives like this rifle has on the battle lines.”
State lawmakers were deeply divided last year over the effort to make the Bible the official state book. Some argued it was far too sacred to be trivialized alongside other state symbols and songs, while others called the holy text integral to Tennessee history. The House narrowly passed it despite serious constitutional concerns, though the Senate ultimately defeated that proposal.
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