Former Cody resident helping to lead effort
While most firearms research is funded by gun control advocates, that won’t be the case with the new Firearms Research Center at the University of Wyoming’s College of Law.
UW recently launched the center with the help of large donations from multiple companies in the firearms industry.
However, no matter where the money comes from, center officials say their donors will not determine the courses, direction or scope of the university’s research. The center’s stated aim is bring more voices to the firearms discussion, create a pipeline for law school graduates prepared to serve as firearms attorneys and act as a reliable, nonpartisan resource for firearms-related information and research.
A case for freedom
For center co-founder and director George Mocsary, whose parents escaped communism in Eastern Europe, it’s all about freedom.
“My father was a political prisoner for 16 years for helping student leaders speak and for helping them escape from behind the Iron Curtain,” Mocsary said.
His father spent six of those years imprisoned in solitary confinement. His mother escaped from communist Hungary on Christmas Eve, making a run for it in the middle of the night through a minefield. They ended up in New York, where Mocsary was born. He has championed freedom for most of his life.
“Tyranny is a lot harder to perpetrate against an armed population,” he said in a Tuesday interview.
Yet, Mocsary didn’t set out to be a legal scholar. First he earned a degree in engineering; then an MBA. The juris doctorate didn’t come until later in his career, but it’s in the legal field that he’s become a nationally recognized expert. He’s now a UW law professor and the co-founder of the university’s new Firearms Research Center.
Mocsary’s work has been cited by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, the Illinois Supreme Court, and other federal courts. He is frequently quoted about firearms law in newspapers and periodicals.
Working with ‘the best’
The center’s other co-founder is Ashley Hlebinsky, the former curator of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum. To a research center that will take years to fully develop, she brings a track record of seeing protracted projects through to the finish. That includes Hlebinsky’s 10 years in Cody — five of which she spent masterfully renovating the firearms museum. She’s also a well-respected source on firearms, often called upon to give expert testimony in legal cases.
Interestingly, Hlebinsky wasn’t brought up in a firearms family.
“I’m from Western [Pennsylvania], so a lot of people assume I grew up around guns. But I really didn’t,” she said. “I didn’t even know there was a rifle range in my high school. Like, that’s how oblivious I was.”
After spending her childhood in and out of hospitals, including 15 surgeries, Hlebinsky wanted to be a medical doctor. She began studying the history of medicine and how it related to advances in ammunition, eventually landing an internship at a military museum in Pittsburgh. It was only then she held her first gun.
“I got hooked on it and then learned how to shoot modern historic guns and did everything I possibly could to learn about firearms from both a practical and academic setting,” she said.
Since Mocsary developed the idea of the research center two years ago, Hlebinsky has donated her time to help get the program off the ground. But her volunteer status ends soon, as Hlebinsky is on track to become the center’s executive director.
“I’m trying to kind of connect the dots with all of the different research areas that we had in Cody and connect them to a larger university system so the research center has a lot more of a holistic approach to the study of firearms,” Hlebinsky said. “Obviously, Second Amendment scholarship is incredibly important, but I think that most research institutions around firearms in the country aren’t taking the interdisciplinary approach that I want to take.”
The center was established to bring more voices to the firearms discussion, create a pipeline for law school graduates prepared to serve as firearms attorneys and act as a reliable, nonpartisan resource for firearms-related information and research. Mocsary said Hlebinsky’s work has been instrumental in developing this holistic approach to the subject.
“She’s the best — not just a good person, but the best,” he said.
The first move is to get the center’s website up and operational. A large donation from within the industry, which has yet to be officially announced, will mean the site will be fully loaded by summer. The website and all subsequent research will be available to the public as an online hub for firearms-related data, research and law.
Hlebinsky said the intent is for the center to serve as a resource for “academics, practitioners, lawmakers, members of the media and the public on the uses and roles firearms play in society — both past and present.”
That will include offering continuing legal education, and there is hope the center can bring exploratory courses to the state’s community colleges. Plans also call for offering an array of public events and educational resources, including firearms safety courses. It will emphasize firearms education, including facilitating access to gun safety materials, to encourage dialogue and create a broader understanding of the role of guns in American society.
“We made sure that the program would appeal not just to lawyers, but really to anyone in the community who’s interested in the topic,” Mocsary said.
He noted the ongoing debate in the United States over the Second Amendment, violence and the country’s relationship with firearms.
“Discussions are frequently siloed, lacking cross-disciplinary work and contributions from diversified voices,” he said. “By bringing together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines and experts from other backgrounds, the Firearms Research Center will foster a broad discourse to produce meaningful change in how firearms are discussed and understood.”
The College of Law says it’s aiming to become the premier law school for practitioners who serve the legal needs of all those who produce, employ, own and regulate firearms.
“Under the leadership of preeminent firearms scholars and experts, the center will foster groundbreaking research for peer review and public use,” the college said.
For students, the center will offer hands-on learning experiences, research opportunities and job placement after graduation, UW said in a recent press release.
Classes are already scheduled for next semester.
“After years of hard work and diligence, we are thrilled to officially launch the [center] and know that its impact will be widespread and meaningful,” Hlebinsky said.