Wisconsin Republicans float bill to designate state rifle

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers began circulating a bill Thursday that would designate a lever-action rifle produced in northwestern Wisconsin as the state’s official rifle.

The bill from state Reps. Dave Armstrong, Treig Pronschinske and James Edming and Sen. Romaine Quinn would designate the Henry All-Weather .45-70 as Wisconsin’s official state rifle.

The bill is symbolic only. The state rifle designation would not force anyone to purchase or use the weapon. But it would give the rifle and its manufacturer, Rice Lake-based Henry Repeating Arms, plenty of publicity and help the bill’s authors score points with gun supporters.

Armstrong is from Rice Lake; Quinn is from Cameron, about seven miles (12 kilometers) south of Rice Lake. Edming’s district includes Ladysmith, home to a Henry Repeating Arms factory.

The company’s Big Boy All-Weather Rifle won the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s “Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin” contest in 2019. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is the state’s largest business association and a staunch Republican ally.

Pronschinske, who hails from Mondovi in west-central Wisconsin, said the bill is a way to recognize a Wisconsin company and the state’s manufacturing sector as well as honor the state’s hunting traditions.

“The nice part about this bill is that it simply honors a longstanding tradition that many Wisconsinites enjoy,” he said. “Something that pays homage to many generations of hunters is in no way political and should not be framed as such.”

Armstrong declined comment. Quinn and Edming didn’t immediately return messages.

At least nine other states, including Alaska, Arizona and Texas, have designated official state firearms, according to the National Rifle Association. North Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a proposal to make the Winchester Model 1876 rifle that state’s official firearm. One of the Legislature’s handful of American Indian members, Democrat Jayme Davis, complained that the rifle was used to wipe out buffalo in the 1800s, robbing indigenous people of a key resource.

State Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, scoffed at the bill. His city has been grappling with a sharp uptick in homicides since the COVID-19 pandemic began and guns have been the weapon of choice.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel database, about 200 people have been killed in the city in each of the last three years. Ninety percent of the victims last year and in 2021 were shot; 79% of the victims in 2020 were shot.

“Are you kidding me?” Larson said of the bill. “Why? Why? You know, there are mounting problems in our communities that people are facing. It seems silly that we’re trying to go down a path of trying to designate things that are just bumper-sticker signals to a base.”

The GOP legislators are seeking co-sponsors to sign on by March 24. Aides to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu didn’t immediately respond to emails inquiring about the bill’s prospects.

Britt Cudaback, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, also didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if the governor would support the measure, but it appears unlikely that Evers would sign the bill into law if it gets to him.

The governor called a special legislative session in 2019 to pass bills creating universal background checks on gun purchasers and to allow judges to disarm people deemed to be a threat. Republicans gaveled in and gaveled out within seconds without taking any action on the measures.

Last year, Evers vetoed a set of GOP bills that would have expanded concealed carry rights.

Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report. Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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