New Cody Firearms Museum Exhibit Adds Deeper Context to Gun History

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posted on July 21, 2019
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A new renovation at a time-honored firearms museum seeks to expand knowledge of the context and experience of guns in American history with new audiences beyond those already familiar with firearms.

The Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo., refurbished and modernized 40,000 square feet of museum space formerly geared more towards gun enthusiasts.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the premier destination to experience the authentic story of the American West. It started as log cabin in 1927 and expanded to include other museums, including the Cody Firearms Museum, established in 1976. Named after famed American hunter William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

The renovation has allowed more items from the museum’s collection of over 10,000 artifacts to be displayed for guests to see and learn about. At least a thousand more guns are now being shown. Visitors can practice on four simulators to learn how to properly fire a handgun, shotgun, M2 machine gun, and long-range rifle. They can also practice maneuvering a bolt action on a rifle and slide action on a handgun.

Museum staff decided to redesign the exhibits after guest surveys revealed that half its visitors were completely unfamiliar with guns and uneducated about many aspects of handling firearms, including gun safety. The goal is to educate the public about proper firearms use in various different contexts. 

Curator Ashley Hlebinsky told a local newspaper, “A lot of people didn’t know about sighting and proper stance, which is frustrating. Safety is huge for us. For a lot of people this is their only encounter with that.”

“We interpret the entirety of gun history and all of the ways guns have been used in human endeavor,” she said.

New interactive displays include video, hands-on experiences and touchscreen technology. The entire front of the exhibit is now dedicated to teaching about firearms handling and safety. The new galleries include:

  • Firearms Basics and Orientation;
  • Evolution of the Firearm;
  • Modern Shooting Sports;
  • Firearms of the West;
  • Military History;
  • Science of Firearms and Ammunition;
  • Art of Firearms, and
  • the Gun Library and Research Level.

Some notable highlights include the Military History gallery, which incorporates soldiers’ experiences such as firsthand stories from veterans into its exhibit. This gallery is not a glorification of war. Rather, its purpose is to educate visitors about war and its effects on human beings, including physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The gallery called “The Science of Firearms and Ammunition” contains hands-on features for guests, including a ballistics experience that allows visitors to match rifling marks on images of fired bullets.

The new museum has adopted an “open-arms approach to non-gun aficionados,” hoping to give guests new perspectives about the experience of owning and using firearms as the concept of guns becomes more controversial and politicized in America today.

Museum designer Patrick Gallagher said the renovated exhibits do not look away from the fact that guns are steadily becoming a divisive topic in society, while hoping to provide closer insights about firearms to broaden people’s minds.

They [guns] are part of the historical language of the country and because we are in a polarized time in the country they can be a flashpoint but they can also be a teaching moment,” said Gallagher.

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