Tennessee’s Official State Gun Could Blow Other States’ Official Guns Out of the Sky

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A Barrett light .50-caliber sniper rifle with scope.
A firearm for the Volunteer State.Photo: JOHN YODER

Tennessee evidently wanted a stronger state symbol than the cave salamander (the state amphibian). So they have reached for an official state gun. Specifically, a gun that can knock a commercial airliner out of the sky: the Barrett model M82/M107 .50 caliber rifle. It joins the list of Tennessee’s official songs and flowers and the like, and also brings the state into an elite class of six that have chosen a firearm to represent their local culture. Pennsylvania opted for the Colonial-era long rifle, Indiana the unique grouseland rifle, and West Virginia the 1819 flintlock. Arizona, Utah, and Alaska have official state guns as well.

The .50 caliber rifle is a behemoth. It is used by military snipers and can “penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars,” according to the Violence Policy Center. Fifty-caliber guns have been described as “among the most destructive weapons legally available to civilians in the United States.” The Branch Davidians used this thing in Waco, Texas, during their stand-off with authorities in 1993. In 2006, a General Social Survey found that 86 percent of the country wanted to entirely ban it. The guns are unregulated on the federal level, although they are prohibited in California and D.C., and strictly regulated in others.

The State Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro cast the one dissenting vote against adopting the state rifle, although it wasn’t on hand-cannon grounds. His concern was that promoting a private company’s product through state symbolism set a bad precedent. “If George Dickel and Jack Daniels 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. At which point government would probably bring out a Barrett .50-caliber rifle.