Rutherford County now holds the distinction of being home of the official state firearm, the Barrett Model 82A1, commonly known as the Barrett .50.
Rutherford County now holds the distinction of being home of the official state rifle, the Barrett Model 82A1, commonly known as the Barrett .50.
The state Senate approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, giving special recognition to the weapon, which is used mainly for taking out military targets from long ranges.
The designation will put the gun in the Tennessee Blue Book beside the iris as the state flower, tulip poplar as the state tree and raccoon as the state animal.
Murfreesboro resident Ronnie Barrett, who calls the resolution "quite an honor," developed the shoulder-fired .50-caliber rifle more than 30 years ago.
Barrett Firearms, located on Miller Lane just off I-24 at the Buchanan exit in southeast Rutherford County, says its products are used by civilian sport shooters, law enforcement agencies, the U.S. military and about 75 countries worldwide approved by the U.S. State Department.
The Barrett .50 resolution passed the House in 2015 sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City, a former Marine who carried it while serving in Iraq from 2006 to 2010.
"I wanted to honor Tennessee ingenuity and Tennessee manufacturing," Van Huss said. "A lot of folks will say the Kentucky Long Rifle, the flintlock, did more for our history. Yes, the Kentucky Long Rifle did a lot to blaze the frontier here in Tennessee."
But the Kentucky Long Rifle was developed in Pennsylvania by a German and Swede, while the flintlock was developed in France by a Frenchman, Van Huss pointed out. Van Huss said he met Barrett after he filed this bill in 2015.
"The Barrett .50-cal was developed here in Tennessee, manufactured here in Tennessee and has continuously been manufactured here in Tennessee. So I believe it is a weapon system that does more to honor Tennessee ingenuity than those other things," he said.
The measure doesn't come without some critics, including MTSU professor John Vile, who says he's not so sure Tennessee needs an official state rifle.
"... Far more importantly, I don't think we should be designating a particular brand that is currently being manufactured as opposed to Davy Crockett's rifle or something that has historically been associated with Tennessee," Vile said.
Vile, who heads the MTSU Honors College, said he bases his view on the "conservative free enterprise premise that governments should not be picking winners and losers. I also wonder if this could discourage manufacturers of competing weapons to settle in the state."
Beretta, for instance, is investing $40 million in a manufacturing facility in Gallatin where it plans to add 300 jobs by 2018.
Barrett is a frequent donor to legislators' political campaigns, giving mainly to Rutherford County legislative candidates, including $500 to Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, in 2014 and $250 to Ketron in 2013, according to Tennessee Registry of Finance records.
Barrett also gave $1,000 to state Sen. Jim Tracy in 2011 and $250 to Rep. Rick Womick. Barrett's wife, Donna, a former Republican state representative, gave $500 to Womick over the last five years.
The state Department of Transportation constructed a $1 million road to Barrett Firearms after he became embroiled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit with Brenda Benz over road access to the front of his facility when he expanded it several years ago. Courts ultimately ruled in Benz's favor.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated.