Controversy Over Winchester Model 1876
BISMARCK – A bill to designate the state’s official firearm failed the North Dakota State House Wednesday.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 4010 would have designated the Winchester Model 1876 as the official state firearm of North Dakota.
“The Political Subdivisions committee heard testimony that this firearm President Theodore Roosevelt had when he lived out in the badlands in North Dakota when he was 22 years old,” said Rep. Dawson Holle, R-Dis. 31, Mandan. “There was a bit of concern that the Winchester Model 1876 may have been used in military conflicts.”
Holle said he reached out to employees at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck about the concern and was told the firearm was used for recreational purposes only.
“There is one side of history regarding this gun,” said Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Dis. 9A, Rolette, tearfully. “There is also another side and I stand today to remind you of it. The Winchester 1876 was created to be more powerful and to shoot longer range than the 1873 version. It was literally made to shoot buffalo. It was used to take so many buffalo that it almost wiped them out. By doing so it had a direct correlation to the welfare of the indigenous people of this land. My people.”
Davis said indigenous people relied on buffalo for food, tools, medicine, and shelter.
“By taking so many through the use of this gun, we were forced to rely on government food rations and government housing,” said Davis. “It not only took our livelihood, it was also used to take many of our people. No matter what the historical society says, that is a fact. The hurt I feel by having such a gun celebrated can only be shared by asking you to imagine us celebrating something that wipes out your livelihood, or a weapon to kill your family.”
“The idea that this rifle was used to wipe out buffalo, it probably was unfortunately used to kill a lot of buffalo,” said Rep. Nico Rios, R-Dis. 23, Williston. “The buffalo population was at about 60 million in the late 1700s and this gun coming out in 1876 was just there towards the very end. I’d just like to point out that this gun wasn’t killing buffalo for 200 years.”
Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Dis. 21, Fargo, said North Dakota is one of 41 states that does not have a state gun.
“Our state flower and our state bird have never been a source of anguish or pain or carnage or starvation or death, so we appreciate and value those,” said Schneider. “We probably do not need this weapon to be a symbol of our state.”
SCR4010 had passed the Senate by a voice vote but failed in the House by a verification vote of 59 to 34.