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Utah lawmaker wants MLK Day to honor gunmaker

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Supporters say John Browning’s guns secured ‘freedom that allowed King to do his work’

The NAACP has condemned a Utah lawmaker’s bill that would add the name of a local gunmaker to Martin Luther King Day.

Under state Sen. Mark Madsen’s proposed law, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., would share his holiday with John Moses Browning, an early 20th-century gunmaker behind such famous gun brands as Browning, Colt and Winchester.

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The new holiday would be called “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./John M. Browning Day.”

The head of the local chapter of the NAACP is “furious,” reports Salt Lake NBC affiliate KSL channel 5.

“Here you have a man, Dr. King, who was assassinated — and then you’re going to put his name along with a person who was a gun manufacturer?” Jeannetta Williams said, noting that King was assassinated using a gun.

“The whole state of Utah would be looked at in a very bad way if something like this were to pass,” Williams added. “We’re hoping that maybe it goes away.”

“Supporters of the idea say Browning’s inventions, which included the most sophisticated automatic and semi-automatic weaponry of the early 20th Century, were instrumental in US wars against tyranny and partially responsible for the continued freedom that allowed King to do his work,” writes Paul Rolly at the Salt Lake Tribune, though Rolly doesn’t attribute that talking point to any one person.

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State Senate leaders “say they like the idea of honoring the late Utah gun inventor John Moses Browning with a state holiday, but aren’t set on having it share a day with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday,” reports Brandon Loomis at the Tribune.

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins said it’s “appropriate” to honor Browning, and he “personally sees no conflict in doing so on a day that already honors a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” according to the Tribune.

“Guns keep peace,” Jenkins said.

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“There is the question of whether a man who held 128 gun patents should share a holiday with a reverend who, before he was shot and killed, used non-violence to promote civil rights,” notes Lisa Riley Roche at the Deseret News.

The final shape of the proposed law is not yet known. Under Utah tradition, bills are tabled blank and filled in later. The Tribune reports that a version of the bill combining Martin Luther King Day with the new holiday has been circulating around the state capitol.

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The Tribune‘s Rolly notes that Utah has long had a problematic relationship with the holiday celebrating the life and death of a black civil rights leader.

The Utah Legislature has a contentious history with the holiday honoring King. After President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation creating the federal holiday, bitter debates resulted in a compromise, calling the holiday “Human Rights Day.”

Utah changed the name to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2000, becoming the last state to do so.

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday of January. King’s birthday was January 15. Browning’s birthday is estimated to have been January 21 or 23.

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The gun used to kill Dr. King was a Remington Gamester Model 760 .243 caliber rifle — not one of the guns descended from Browning’s designs.


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