EA News Commentary: The prospect of states using weapons as official symbols indicates an improper value system for a democratic system of government. Weapons symbolize the use of force in exercising one’s will. In the office of government, raising the status of weapons to become official symbols betrays a tendency toward depotism and totalitarian rule by force rather than democratic ideals. To borrow from T. H. White in his novelization of King Arthur, The Once and Future King, might does not make right. For the state to elevate tools of force and violence to the level of official symbols sends the wrong message. The power of symbols is greater than just a literal message. They speak to the innermost emotions of humans and can have great impacts on the psyche and emotions of the citizens. We should not take them lightly.
The Texas state dish is chili, its tree is the pecan and its fish is the Guadalupe bass. And soon, Texas may have an explosive addition to its set of official symbols: plans are afoot for a state gun.
Though Texas lawmakers through the years have seen fit to designate dozens of symbols, including an official pollinator (the western honey bee), cooking implement (the cast-iron Dutch oven) and shell (the lightning whelk), they have not yet given the seal of approval to a weapon, despite the state’s famous fondness for arms.
But a resolution to make the cannon the official state gun passed through a senate committee hearing on Thursday, the first step to the plan becoming law.
Another proposal in the current legislative session calls for the 1847 Colt Walker pistol – “the most powerful black powder pistol in existence” and used in the Mexican American war – to be recognised as the official handgun of Texas; another suggests the Bowie knife, named after Jim Bowie, who died in the Battle of the Alamo, should be the official state knife.
“There’s room for all three, there really is,” said Don Huffines, the Republican state senator who authored the cannon resolution. Hand-to-hand combat was given an acknowledgement of sorts this week, when the legislature made Chuck Norris an honorary Texan (he was born on the wrong side of the Oklahoma-Texas state line).
As many Republican-led state legislatures have sought to pass more permissive gun laws, the idea of designating a weapon as a symbol has developed traction. Utah became the first state to name an official firearm in 2011, citing the Browning M1911 automatic pistol. Arizona soon followed, adopting a Colt revolver four months after the mass shooting in Tucson that killed six and seriously injured more than a dozen others, including then-US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Indiana, West Virginia, Alaska and Pennsylvania followed, while last year the Barrett M82 became the official state rifle of Tennessee.
The Texas cannon resolution references the 1835 Battle of Gonzales, when Mexican soldiers tried to take a cannon from a group of Texans who resisted, marking the beginning in earnest of the Texas revolution.
“Obviously the cannon is the most significant symbol we have for the state of Texas, our sense of independence, our strength of being responsible as individuals and not reliant on the government, our sense of liberty, our sense of virtue,” Huffines said before the hearing.
The resolution adds: “Since 1954, Smokey the Cannon has been discharged at every University of Texas home football game in Austin.” Several vintage cannons are on the grounds of the state capitol in downtown Austin.
Huffines said there is no reason for gun-control advocates to object on the basis that the concept venerates tools of killing. “A cannon is symbolic, it’s not about promoting violence, but our history speaks for itself, our heritage speaks for itself, and it is a heritage, a history, of using the cannon for our liberty and our independence. It’s the spirit of Texas,” he said. “We don’t have people down here complaining about cannon control.”
Last year, Texas introduced the open carrying of holstered handguns for permit holders and also allowed license holders to bring concealed guns on to public college campuses. Huffines filed several other bills in this session aiming to expand the rights of firearms owners, and backs the idea of “constitutional carry” – the open carrying of a handgun without the need for a permit, which is under consideration by lawmakers.
Two such proposed bills “would weaken public safety standards in Texas by abolishing the licensing and training requirements for carrying a loaded handgun in public”, said Alexandra Chasse, of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “There is so much more we need to do in Texas to protect our families and law enforcement from gun violence. I hope legislators will work with us with those goals in mind, rather than focusing on symbolic gestures.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010