There are 7 states with official guns. But only one scares the hell out of me.

Let's be honest: the entire concept of "Official State Things" is kind of weird and arbitrary.

Don't get me wrong; it's great for bringing publicity to state exports and recognizing cultural contributions, so that's all good and well. Things like state tree and state bird are all pretty commonplace across the 50. 

But then there are a handful of states that have Official Crustaceans, for example. And of the 28 states with an Official State Beverage, 21 of them chose milk. Vermont is the only state with an Official State Flavor (maple, obviously). And in Arkansas, the ripe vine tomato is both the Official State Fruit and Vegetable.


FOR THE LAST TIME, THEY'RE FREAKING FRUITS, OK?! Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images.

There are also U.S. states with ​Official State Firearms.

On February 24, 2016, Tennessee became the latest state to join this gun-happy tradition, following in the illustrious tradition established by Utah, Arizona, Indiana, West Virginia, Alaska, and Pennsylvania before them.

But there's something about Tennessee's Official State Gun doesn't quite fit in with the rest of them...

Let's take a look, and see if you can figure out the difference.

Photo by Karen Bleier/Getty Images.

1. Utah

Utah was the first state to declare an Official Gun, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Browning M1911 pistol, which was originally designed by John Browning of Ogden, Utah — where the gun is still manufactured to this day.

100 years old? Local pride? Probably a little bit of economic stimulation? That's not so different than any other Official State Something. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

2. Arizona

Arizona joined the Official Gun party one month later in April 2011 with the Colt Single Action Army Revolver. Also known as the Colt .45 or "the gun that won the west," it was favored by frontier heroes like Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok — which also makes it kind of insensitive to the local Native American population. 

But hey, it's been around since 1873 (even though it was invented in New England), so it gets a reluctant pass.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

3. Indiana

Indiana followed one year later in March 2012 with the Grouseland rifle, which dates back to sometime between 1803 and 1812. This gun was invented by John Small, who was the first sheriff of Knox County, Indiana, as well as the designer the official Indiana state seal. Also, there are only six known Grouseland rifles still in existence. (That means no photos, sorry!)

4. West Virginia

The Hall Model 1819 flintlock rifle was named the Official Gun of West Virginia in April 2013. Again, it was invented in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and had nearly 200 years of pedigree and a lengthy stint in the U.S. Army before it earned Official State Gun status.

Photo from Antique Military Rifles/Flickr.

5. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania made the Pennsylvania long rifle their Official Gun in June 2014, even though it's also known as the Kentucky long rifle, which is a tad confusing. This muzzleloading gun was invented in the 1700s, and was pretty much the first new gun developed in colonial America, which means that when the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment, this is probably the gun they were thinking of. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

6. Alaska

Alaska named the pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 bolt-action sporting rifle as its Official State Gun in July 2014, to commemorate its role in helping Americans "establish a firm foothold" in the Alaskan frontier. Not quite as historic as some of the other Official State Guns on this last, but I'm willing to give it a pass because it's Alaska. (and also because the leftover scrap pieces from the Winchester factory were an integral part of my own childhood, which I swear is less concerning than it sounds.)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons. (Technically this is the post-1964 version, but you get the idea.)

7. And then there's Tennessee...which designated this monstrosity as its Official State Firearm.

"Haha, look at that pathetic woman struggling to handle that massive piece of non-phallic manly artillery, haha." — Those guys, probably. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Barrett M82 is a .50 caliber semiautomatic sniper rifle that weighs about 30 pounds and can accurately deliver a bullet to a target more than a mile away. (although its maximum effective range is more like four miles. FOUR. MILES.)

It was invented by Tennessee resident (and NRA board member) Ronnie Barrett way way back in 1984, which I guess gives it some state-level relevance but are you serious with that thing?!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

There is literally no reason for a citizen to own a five-and-a-half-foot-long armor-piercing deathcannon like the Barrett M82 that can shoot a golfball-sized bullet through a tank from 50 football fields away.

No reason at all.

Are you really gonna pretend you need that thing to hunt a beaver or a bullfrog? Yeah OK.

Mexican Special Forces marching with M82s. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

That a weapon like this could not only be legal, but also celebrated by elected officials, speaks volumes about our nation's gun problem.

Photo by Jeff Haynes/Getty Images.

The Barrett M82 been used in an average of two major U.S. crimes each year for the past 25 years — and yet remains completely unregulated at the federal level. (although there are some states where it is banned under other existing laws, such as barrel length.) 

So while 85% of the country already supports a ban on civilian sales of the Barrett M82, Tennessee just gave it a big publicity boost with its Official State Gunhood.

I realize that gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates often end up speaking past each other, using different words for the same thing and furthering frustrations on both sides. So while the invention of the Barrett M82 might sound like a victory for the 2nd Amendment, I hope we can all agree that Tennessee's announcement is a massive defeat for common sense.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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