A native Texan, I’m no stranger to state pride. Among the random things I learned in the first grade (to read), were all of the official state symbols. Not only was I taught that the Bluebonnet is the state flower, but I was warned that casually picking one while frolicking in a field could land you in jail. Terrified at the thought of wearing horizontal stripes, I asked my teacher if this law applied to little kids. She assured me that the courts have no mercy on anyone, especially six year-olds, when it comes to the Texas wildflower. To this day, I look around before I dare even sniff one.
I learned that “Texas, Our Texas” is the state song. For those of you that don’t know it by heart (a small minority I’m sure), it can be summed up by the first line: Texas our Texas, all hail the mighty state.
As this was a time way before Wayne and Garth made hailing anything cool, I decided to make it a little jazzier by singing it in Pig Latin. Despite my music teacher shouting IXNAY at me over the din, it was a hit with all the cool girls who wore side ponytails.
And as if that weren’t enough, I can still identify the Mockingbird, the Pecan tree, the armadillo…you get the idea.
State symbols are fascinating things. In addition to making license plates more interesting, they provide a vivid snapshot of a state—its indigenous flora and fauna and its points of pride. State symbols usually begin with a grassroots movement to nominate an object as a potential state signifier. A class of fourth graders, like the ones at Glenside Elementary School in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, may decide that the endangered Eastern box turtle should be the official state reptile.
A group of local farmers may decide that a prevalent regional crop belongs on the state quarter. These active citizens write a letter to their state congressperson imploring them to consider the new symbol.
The lawmaker then writes and introduces a bill in favor of the symbol to the state legislature. If the bill is approved by both the house and senate, then the governor must endorse it. If he or she does, voila! A new state symbol.
Since the process is open to anyone living in a state with a catchy idea, it’s not difficult to surmise that many unconventional things get the nod for state symbol.
Pennsylvania’s state toy is a slinky, for example. It’s state beverage? That ever-refreshing, thirst-quenching, tall glass of…milk. Utah, who’s state motto is Industry (yes just the word, industry) is adding to the list of unusual symbols by recently passing a bill in the Utah House that, if approved, will designate the Browning M1911 semiautomatic as state gun. Less than a month since suspect Jared Loughner allegedly used a semiautomatic weapon to gun down six people and gravely wound U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, critics are questioning the timing of such a bill. Even within the Utah state legislature, some representatives are suggesting a statue to honor the innovator, Utah born John Brown, instead of his gun.
In the ever heated debate over gun rights vs. gun control, the designation of a state gun poses an interesting question: What are the implications of endorsing a weapon as a state symbol?
Proponents of the measure feel it represents the constitutional right to defend oneself. Critics feel it’s an imprudent and embarrassing message to send to the rest of the country. Utah is not alone, however. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Pennsylvania, home of Constitution Daily, is also in the race to be the first with a state gun. Currently, there is a bill in the state senate nominating the Pennsylvania long rifle, a significant gun innovation of the 18th century for the honor. If state symbols represent a snapshot of the very best of your state, do you feel a gun fits the picture?