An Official State Firearm?
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 6, 2010.)
Pennsylvania’s official state flower is the mountain laurel. Pretty! Its state bird is the ruffed grouse. Beautiful! Its state animal is the whitetail deer. Graceful! And soon, the Pennsylvania Longrifle might be the Keystone State’s official state firearm. You kidding?
If discussing it is waste of time,
then let’s just do it.
No, I’m not kidding. And it’s a great idea.
Senator Pat Browne of the Lehigh Valley has introduced legislation that would make this historic weapon the only official state firearm in the nation. I say let’s do it.
Critics claim a state firearm will encourage violence. Nonsense. A state firearm will more likely reduce violence by fostering a respect for history.
To those who would object that a state firearm would encourage violence, I suggest they learn just what a longrifle is. With an origin in the 16th century, it helped create and protect our liberties until about 1900 as it fed, clothed, and enriched frontier life.
Practically, its design makes criminal use absurd. With a barrel up to four feet long, it’s neither concealable nor easily operable. With a firing rate of about one shot per minute, anyone using it in any sort of combat today is at a worrisome disadvantage.
Shooting it isn’t as simple as slapping some cartridges into the gun and firing off a volley. Loading involves funneling blackpowder down the barrel, then ramming in a round lead ball wrapped in a swatch of cotton. Then, the rifle needs primed with a finer gunpowder, which is ignited by a spark from a piece of flint. Pull the trigger, the gun goes “Boom,” and belches a cloud of white smoke -- if the powder is dry.
Yep, there’s a reason for that old saying “Keep yer powder dry.” Black gunpowder is especially hygroscopic. That’s a five-dollar word meaning the stuff is thirsty. Wanna shoot again? Repeat all the steps. And hurry up! No, you won’t see any criminal robbing a convenience store with that unwieldy antique.
Artistically, the Pennsylvania Longrifle teaches about craftsmanship in wood and metal. Assembly lines were still centuries away, so every gunmaker (mostly German immigrants) had to be a skilled woodworker and metallurgist. They were the master craftsmen of their day.
Its sleek and elegant stock, often of highly figured curly maple, was finished with brass ornaments. A patchbox was built into the stock, with a decorative brass lid that kept the cotton patches clean, dry and relatively handy.
Historically, the Pennsylvania Longrifle was also a survival tool. As the frontier expanded beyond Pennsylvania’s borders, it was made virtually everywhere along the way. Berks County, PA native Daniel Boone cradled one in his arms as he explored the Kentucky wilderness, which led to the inaccurate appellation “Kentucky Rifle.” Naming the longrifle Pennsylvania’s official state firearm would help correct that misnomer.
It played a vital role in the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and countless frontier battles up to the twentieth century. And though they’re no longer a combat weapon, a special deer season still offers an opportunity for hunters to use them as our ancestors did.
Any state lawmaker who objects to making the longrifle the state firearm ought to visit the Jacobsburg Historical Society which houses the Pennsylvania Longrifle Museum. Dave Ehrig, President of the Society and a leading expert on antique arms, says “The Pennsylvania Longrifle is intrinsic to the fabric of the history of Pennsylvania. It represents a vision of the founders, an industry, an artform and a people.”
That’s why collectors pay tens of thousands of dollars today for originals in good condition, and why reproductions are meticulously crafted to the standards of the period.
Through what it teaches about art, craftsmanship and history, naming the Pennsylvania Longrifle the state firearm is more likely to reduce crime than increase it. And it will help people understand what they’re seeing when they watch a historic battle reenactment.
The only other objection I’ve heard is that with all the tough issues on the table in our statehouse, a discussion about a state firearm is a waste of time.
I agree, so let’s just do it. Let’s stop ignoring history. Let’s make sure our students and others can better understand the roots of our state and the tools that helped shape Pennsylvania to play a proud and critical role in our nation’s history. Surely it’s more important than a state cookie (chocolate chip) or a state toy (the slinky).