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Our View: Legislature was right to shoot down this idea

The Montana House acted wisely Tuesday when it rejected a proposal to name the Winchester Model 1873 the official state rifle.

Not that there's anything wrong with having a state rifle, but one legitimate question asked Tuesday was: "So what?"

The rifle is certainly an important part of Montana history, and it will be displayed prominently in several museums throughout the state.

But many Montanans, especially those who were here long before the rest of us, took offense at the designation, saying it dredges up memories of terrible times in the state. Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez gave a stirring speech in the House talking about the "devastation" the weapon and the invasion brought to Native Americans it represents.

Certain issues will almost certainly exacerbate century-long traditions between whites and Native Americans. The battle over whether bison should be introduced to Hi-Line and other Native American reservations is bound to bring about differences between ranchers who fear disease and crop damage from the bison and Native Americans who hold the bison as an important part of the tradition.

The battle is being played out in the Legislature, in the courts and within Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It's sad, but perhaps nothing can be done to prevent the inevitable dispute.

But there is no need to irritate the tensions over establishment of a state rifle.

It's great that the Bitterroot is the state flower and the Western Meadowlark is the state bird, but no one's life will change if that designation were repealed tomorrow.

In the same way, not having a state rifle won't affect a single person. The designation will be nothing but a footnote in some Montana history books.

But perhaps it will make Native Americans feel a little bit like they are welcome in a state in which their people have lived for hundreds of years.

Thanks to Reps. Kris Hansen, Wendy Warburton and Clarena Brockie, a group as diverse as Montana itself, for voting against this proposal.


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