As a happy excuse to avoid real work, state lawmakers love to pass laws making official designations. That is why the whitetail deer is the official Pennsylvania animal, the ruffed grouse the state game bird, the Great Dane the state dog, the firefly the state insect and milk the official state beverage. There’s even a state fossil — not the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board as might be supposed but Phacops rana, a small water animal.
But there’s a move afoot in Harrisburg to adopt a symbol that unhappily is not innocuous — to make the Pennsylvania long rifle the official firearm of the commonwealth. Pennsylvania needs an official firearm about as much as a hole in the head.
House Bill 1989 started off as a bill to make the classic Piper J-3 Cub, built in Lock Haven between 1937 and 1947, the official state aircraft — and nothing wrong with that, except the usual misplaced legislative effort.
The long rifle was added to the bill as an amendment — and that is a problem. To be sure, the Pennsylvania long rifle is an interesting artifact of history. As the bill asserts, it was “the first truly American firearm and, due to its exceptional accuracy and range, was considered the greatest achievement in the development of firearms during the 18th century.” Pennsylvania’s settlers depended upon it for hunting and security.
But that is not an argument for the Legislature to honor it with an official designation. Here in the 21st century, Pennsylvania has a problem with firearms — guns kill more than 1,300 people a year in the state. To be sure, the long rifle is not directly to blame, firearms having progressed to a degree of lethality beyond the imagining of the authors of the Second Amendment.
But in honoring this historic rifle, what is really being honored is a gun culture that supposes that freedom depends not on the consent of the governed but on the wisdom of the armed. The bill easily passed the House and now rests in the Senate state government committee, where it should languish.
A Legislature that can’t do anything sensible to limit gun violence shouldn’t be honoring any firearm.