Tennessee names the Barrett .50 caliber as the state's official rifle

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2008, file photo, Capitol City Arms Supply owner Steve Swartz shows off a Barrett .50-caliber rifle in Springfield, Ill. The Tennessee Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, gave final approval to a resolution designating the firearm as the states official state rifle. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Tennessee state symbols

Bird: mockingbirdFlowers: purple passionflower and irisFruit: TomatoWild Animal: RaccoonInsects: Lightning bug and ladybugReptile: Eastern Box TurtleRocks: Limestone and agateSource: www.tn.gov

Odd state symbols

Official State Snack of Utah: Jell-O Official State Soft Drink of Nebraska: Kool-Aid Official State Flavor of Vermont: Maple Official State Muffin of Minnesota: Blueberry Source: ABC News

NASHVILLE - Tennessee now has an official gun, but you'd just be firing blanks if you think it's Davy Crockett's "Old Betsy" flintlock or the M1917 Enfield rifle famously used by Sgt. Alvin York during World War I.

Instead, the state Senate gave final approval and made a modern-day Tennessee-manufactured rifle, now used by U.S. military snipers, its official rifle.

Senators voted 27-1 for House Joint Resolution 231. It designates the Barrett Model M82/M107, a recoil-operated, .50-caliber, semi-automatic rifle developed by Tennessee native Ronnie Barrett as the Volunteer State's official rifle. Barrett is owner of the Christiana, Tenn.-based Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Co.

Barrett, these days a board member of the National Rifle Association and known for hosting lawmakers en masse for shooting events, was just 27 when he invented and crafted the rifle.

The weapon is manufactured in Christiana, which is near Murfreesboro.

Adopted by the U.S. military in the 1980s, the Model M82/M107 has seen considerable action in U.S. forays into the Middle East. In fact, a former Marine sniper who used the weapon during his deployments, Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, introduced the resolution.

And now the rifle joins the ranks of other Tennessee symbols and officially recognized items, including the Tennessee echinacea (coneflower), the state agricultural insect (honeybee), nine state songs and Hugh X, the "state poet laureate of Christian country music in Tennessee."

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville cast the lone dissenting vote against making the Barrett rifle the state's official gun.

He argued it sets a "troubling precedent" that makes it appear government is making official endorsements of private companies' products.

"If George Dickel and Jack Daniel's 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.

MoonPies are made by Chattanooga Bakery Co.

Why not use the flintlock rifle, which was used in the War of 1812 by Tennesseans who earned the state its nickname, "the Volunteer State," Yarbro asked.

Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, who handled Van Huss' House resolution, shot down such suggestions.

"The flintlock was developed in France by a Frenchman. The Kentucky long rifle was developed in Pennsylvania by German and Swedish men," Beavers said. "So I think it's only right that we honor the ingenuity that Ronnie Barrett has had to develop this rifle."

The House approved the Barrett rifle resolution last year on a 74-9 vote. The same year, lawmakers balked at naming the Bible as Tennessee's official state book.

Van Huss' resolution began as a bill making the Barrett rifle its official state "firearm." After that ran into trouble, he retreated, then advanced with the resolution and the designation "rifle."

That's a good thing, Beavers said, noting that makes room for future designations for other firearms like "sidearms" that can honor Beretta. Last year, the 500-year-old Italian firearms manufacturer decided to relocate its U.S. manufacturing plant from Maryland to Gallatin, Tenn., near Nashville because of the state's gun-friendly policies.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, also spoke in support of the Barrett rifle resolution, saying the weapon has a distinct advantage over other Tennessee products.

"I love Goo Goo Clusters, I love Little Debbie cakes, and everything else - even Jack Daniel's whiskey - that have come from Tennessee," Ketron said. "However, none of them have saved lives like this rifle has on the battle lines."

McKee Baking, which produces Little Debbie cakes, pies and other snacks, is based in Collegedale.

Tennessee appears to have become the seventh state to adopt some type of firearm as an official symbol. All were adopted since 2010. But all the firearms adopted by other states are of older vintage than Tennessee's.

For example, Pennsylvania adopted the "long rifle" as its official gun. Indiana adopted the "Grouseland rifle" as its official rifle. The early 19th century gun is housed at Grouseland, home of President William Henry Harrison.

Because the Tennessee resolution refers to "rifle," that could leave room for official state designations in the Volunteer State in areas such as "historic" firearms.

And maybe lawmakers could still honor rifles owned by Davy Crockett, a former Tennessee legislator and congressman, including "Old Betsy," a .40-caliber flintlock.

According to True West Magazine, the rifle was given to the legendary politician and frontiersman by his Lawrence County constituents. While Crockett didn't take the gun with him to his historic and fatal trip to Texas, the rifle nonetheless resides at the Alamo Museum in San Antonio.

Or perhaps they could include Alvin York's M1917 Enfield rifle and/or possibly the .45 Colt automatic pistol.

Both weapons helped earn York the Medal of Honor during World War I when he took command of his platoon under heavy attack on a French battlefield.

York and a few fellow soldiers charged a machine gun nest and seized it, along with four German officers and 128 soldiers.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter at AndySher1.