Posted on February 23, 2010

A Slap at Civil Rights

Deseret News, February 19, 2010

According to reports, the main motivation of the sponsor of SB247 is to honor the memory of John Browning, the Utah gun manufacturer.


Browning was indeed an innovator. He held 128 gun patents and was a key figure in the early years of the state. His innovations influenced virtually all future designs of firearms and are still a part of firearms today.

But SB247, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, would create a state holiday honoring Browning on the very same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That could not possibly be a coincidence, and it is a slap in the face to the civil-rights struggle and to years of efforts to get Utah lawmakers to honor King in Utah.

We’re hearing that this bill is dead on arrival. That’s good. But its very suggestion has the potential to harm the state.

The enduring image of the movement for black equality in the mid 20th century is of peaceful demonstrations led by King and others on the one hand, and the racist establishment on the other, with rifles in hand, ready to enforce the unwritten rules of bigotry. {snip}

Surely there is nothing inherently evil about guns. The Founding Fathers included the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment as an important human right. But the connection of guns as tools of violence with the civil-rights era of the 1950s and ’60s is too strong for anyone to miss. By suggesting that King’s holiday be shared with Browning, Madsen has managed to diminish the legacies of both men, while giving Utah a racist image it does not deserve.


It took Utah lawmakers years to change a holiday from a generic human rights day to one specifically honoring King. It took even longer to convince them to not meet in session on that day. The current crop of legislative leadership has a much better understanding of the importance of civil rights in the nation’s history. Creating a Browning day on that holiday now would be an act loaded with hidden meanings and animosities. {snip}