A Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle.
A Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle. - 
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To celebrate Louisiana’s bicentennial, the gift shop inside the Old State Capitol building in Baton Rouge is selling T-shirts, CDs, posters and tote bags. But Bicentennial Commission director Julie Vezinot’s phone has been ringing with questions about one specific souvenir.

“The guns,” she said. “I’m really amazed by that.”

Vezinot is the director of the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission. And she had a problem.  The commission needed money to pay for bicentennial parades, ceremonies, and even Louisiana history classes for schools. That’s when someone suggested they sell commemorative guns. So state officials decided to offer a special edition Ruger rifle and Browning shotgun.

Gun sales alone won’t cover the commission’s $1.2 million budget. But it could generate $40,000 in profits. And, Vezinot says, guns are part of the Louisiana culture.

“People love to hunt,” she said. “We have duck. We have deer. We have everything in between -- fishing. So it’s a natural fit for Louisiana and guns to go together, I suppose.”

“Think about it for a second,” said Randy Haynie, the chief fundraiser for the Bicentennial Commission. “Louisiana is the Sportsman’s Paradise.” Haynie is the proud owner of one of the bicentennial shotguns.  It sells for $1,812 -- a nod to the year 1812 that Louisiana became a state.

For Haynie, it’ll be a showpiece. “I’ll keep it in my gun case,” he said, “And probably not shoot it because it’s a commemorative and it holds its value longer.” But the Ruger? That’s a working gun, Haynie says, popular for hunting squirrels and alligators, which a lot of people enjoy.

At Bowie Outfitters in Baton Rouge, general manager David Reynerson can barely keep the commemorative guns in stock. “We ran out,” he said. “And our mistake -- we didn’t order more. But I put this gun on the counter and it will sell probably today. It’s a really nice gun.” 

The $1,812 shotgun is easy to assemble, Reynerson says. But if he could only own one gun, it would be the less expensive Ruger.

It’s a versatile rifle, Reynerson says.  And he demonstrated that in a secure test range at Bowie Outfitters, firing the bicentennial Ruger again and again. “Worked like a charm,” he said after shooting off several rounds. “Them squirrels better look out for this one.”

The Ruger sells for $289 -- 10 percent of which goes to the Bicentennial Commission. That’s great for parades. Maybe not so good for the squirrels.

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