At first it looked like Jim Combs had missed the target.
Combs, owner of Wellington LTD, a Colorado marketing company that offers limited-edition firearms with laser-etched carvings for special occasions, keeps tabs on such things as city, county, state and business anniversaries.
So he came up with a state of Arizona centennial special edition rifle. He calls it a collector’s Henry grade .45-caliber rifle.
“It is the Western caliber of choice — a .45 Longbow,” Combs says. “It was more popular in the old Western days.”
Combs didn’t have to be told about the bill that was working its way through the Legislature at the time to label the Colt Action Army revolver as Arizona’s official state firearm, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law April 28. “I read in the paper about them wanting to make the Colt 45 the official firearm,” he said in early April, one step ahead of the game.
The Colt .45 and the centennial rifle both use the same ammunition, he says. “Actually, I’ll be coming out with a centennial Colt .45 soon to make a set with the rifle,” Combs says.
He hasn’t determined the price for the set, but the rifle alone carries a price tag of $2,595. “Call it $2,600,” he says. “That’s easier to say.”
Combs plans to make 100 of the Arizona centennial rifles — one for each year since statehood — featuring engravings that depict bits of Arizona’s history. A prototype of the limited edition rifle includes etchings of the state Capitol, the Butterfield overland mail coach and references to Tombstone, Indian wars, and Capt. William O. “Bucky” O’Neill, an Arizona pioneer.
Based on a suggestion from locals, Combs says he will offer as an option an engraving of Sharlot Hall Museum, site of the first Arizona Territorial governor’s mansion in Prescott. “I was told it is more historically significant than some of the others,” Combs says.
Combs wanted to use brass and nickel for the etchings, but because Arizona is known for its copper, he added that metal to the mix. “I felt the contrast of copper, nickel and brass would be better,” he says. “They’re all part of it.”
The star on the Arizona flag is copper. Combs also plans to have the Capitol moved a bit lower on the engraving and make the Capitol dome out of copper, as it really is.
He says it took him a year of research to come up with the perfect rifle for the Arizona centennial. He started marketing it in March. His first Arizona customer was Bas Aja, who holds several titles, including director of public policy for the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association. He’s also executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders’ Association and executive director of the Arizona Beef Council.
“Jim (Combs) contacted us and brought in a prototype,” Aja says. “We thought it would be a nice way to recognize the centennial. Our people are not averse to guns.”
The association has purchased three and probably will buy more, he says. “We’ll raffle them off — one for a charity and one for the association itself,” Aja says.
He says he intends to buy one for himself. “It’s a real, working rifle,” Aja says, “but once they’re fired they’re not worth as much.”
Combs says his clients often use the guns in connection with fundraisers. For every sale, Combs says, he offers a 10-percent refund if the purchasing organization is a nonprofit. “My dad said if you don’t give back it’s your own fault,” Combs says.
Many of his clients around the country are in law enforcement, he says. He also receives contracts in connection with Civil War events. His company also makes custom carrying cases and display cases for firearms.
Combs has been in the limited-edition firearms business for about 15 years. Before that, he was in marketing and sales, mostly in middle-management positions in the food industry for 30 years.
Is Combs some sort of a marketing genius? “I wish I could add genius to other choice words friends call me,” he says.
Sponsored by Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, SB1610 notes that Arizona has a state fossil (petrified wood); a state bird (cactus wren); state flower (the white flower of the saguaro); state tree (palo verde); state neckwear (bola tie); and state gemstone (turquoise); plus various state animals and a state butterfly.
Earlier this year, a bill passed establishing the official Arizona state nickname as the “Grand Canyon State.”
Gould says he sees nothing wrong with honoring a firearm for its contribution to the state’s Western heritage.
SB1610, which makes the Colt single-action Army revolver the official state firearm, was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 28.