Supporters said the designation was intended to memorialize an important symbol from the frontier era that led to statehood for Montana. They tried to mollify opponents by striking language from the bill that called the Winchester the "gun that won the West."
Rep. Edward Greef, a Florence Republican carrying the measure, noted the Winchester rifle was used by American Indians during their victory at the Battle of The Little Bighorn—although he said the focus should not be on who used the rifle to shot whom.
The gun was "readily available on the frontier and became hugely popular," according to the bill.
"The rifle is a symbol of this historical era," Greef said. "I urge you not to look at the rifle as a weapon, but as a symbol of a place in time."
But the measure was defeated 61-39 in the Republican-led House after Native American lawmakers from the Democratic side of the aisle said the gun still carries bad memories. They argued the lever-action repeating rifle, which could fire rounds more quickly than other models, helped slaughter bison relied upon for food, and was involved in Indian massacres.
State Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez said the stories of women and children being shot still resonate in Indian country.
"For me this is not so much in the past," she said. "I must rise in opposition of celebrating such a weapon as this that brought devastation to my people."
While we're at it, how about if we look at Wounded Knee as a symbol of change? And not as a massacre?
Or...how about if we look at it as a massacre, since that's what it was? Same with the Winchester rifle.
What is the Winchester a symbol of, exactly? How Euro-Americans "won the West," obviously.
The lawmakers even spelled it out in the bill before they wised up and deleted the language. But their intent was clear: to glorify the white man for taming the "wilderness." And the "wild Indians," of course.
We do this in a million ways in our culture. Everything from our coins to our holidays to our monuments is an ode to the conquering white man. To do it yet again is a waste of time and energy.
For a similar effort, see Arizon's State Gun Killed Indians and Arizona Chooses State Gun.
Below: Wounded Knee, a symbol of how we won the West, accomplished with another symbol, the Winchester rifle.