CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to designate a powerful revolver made by a homegrown company as the official state firearm during the upcoming legislation session, which will start amid a heightened national debate on gun control.
A bill pending for the session that begins in early January would name the Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver chambered in the extremely powerful .454 Casull cartridge as Wyoming's official state gun. The high-end revolvers are made in a small factory in the western Wyoming town of Freedom.
Rep. Richard Cannady, R-Glenrock, is the bill's main sponsor and runs a company that deals in shooting supplies. He said members of some local gun clubs approached him and other lawmakers asking them to designate a state gun.
"It's one of the best guns made, high quality," Cannady said Monday of the Freedom Arms revolver. "It's nothing out here that somebody would absolutely just go out and start shooting people with. It's made more for protection from bears and stuff like that, and hunting."
Cannady said demand for ammunition and reloading components has skyrocketed at his business since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Connecticut prompted renewed talk about national gun control. He said he's had to ration sales to keep speculators from clearing out his inventory.
If the bill goes through, Wyoming could become the fourth state to designate an official firearm.
Utah started the trend in 2011 by designating the Model 1911 .45 automatic as its state gun. The pistol, a military warhorse that's seen combat for more than a century, was designed by native son and noted arms designer John Browning.
Later in 2011, Arizona lawmakers tipped their Stetsons in recognition of the state's frontier gunslinger heritage when they chose the Colt Single Action Army revolver, a staple both of real old West gunfights and untold thousands of dime store Western novels in the years since.
Indiana was the latest, designating one particular historic black powder rifle, not a specific model of gun, as the state firearm this year.
Bob Baker, president of Freedom Arms, said Monday he thinks designating his company's flagship revolver as the state firearm is a great idea.
In the quarter century of their production, the Freedom Arms revolvers have attracted the attention of serious big hunters who have used them around the world to kill just about every sort of creature imaginable. They start at about $2,500 and go up depending on specifications.
"I've got to be careful, I don't want this to sound arrogant, but we're kind of in a league of our own," Baker said of his company's guns. "We're usually what others are compared to, and it's nice doing it here in Wyoming and it's nice that the state recognizes it and appreciates it in this way."
Asked about the prospect of Wyoming lawmakers celebrating his company's guns while much of the rest of the country is debating the need for more gun control, Baker said some people will always blame the object.
"But you know, one thing that's interesting on shootings like this, usually it's in a gun-free zone, and in a God-free zone," Baker said. "Everybody will get what they want to get out of that, but it's interesting how it works that way."
Gov. Matt Mead hasn't taken a position on the bill, spokesman Renny MacKay said Monday. Mead toured the Freedom Arms plant this summer, remarking after his tour that the company has a worldwide reputation for building high-quality firearms.
If the bill encounters resistance in the Wyoming Legislature, it may come mainly in the form of quibbling about which gun to honor, not questioning whether the state should be honoring any gun at all.
"I guess my only concern would be, how would you designate one?" said Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette. "Some people like handguns, some people like rifles."
Dan Neal, of the Equality State Policy Center — a public accountability organization — said Monday his group doesn't take an official position on the bill.
Neal questioned whether another gun might be more appropriate for Wyoming. He suggested lawmakers could consider the Model 94 Winchester rifle, for example, or a trapper's musket or one of Buffalo Bill Cody's rifles.
Neal also said state lawmakers have more serious matters to consider and noted that the shooting in Connecticut has put a spotlight on firearms nationwide.
"I don't think we should ignore the fact that all those kids got killed and people are looking hard at guns in society," Neal said. "So it's another factor for leadership to consider as they think about where this bill should go and how it should be played this session."