Clearing Up Misconceptions: UW’s Firearms Research Center Strives To Bring Truth To National Gun Discussion

In 2019, more Americans beat or stabbed somebody to death than murdered somebody with a rifle. So, the widespread angst over assault rifles is just one example of an inaccuracy that can be cleared up with some research, a UW law professor said. 

Mark Heinz

February 16, 20234 min read

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In 2019, more Americans beat or stabbed somebody to death than murdered somebody with a rifle. 

So, the widespread angst over “assault rifles” is just one example of an inaccuracy that can be cleared up with some research, a University of Wyoming law professor said. 

Moreover, bringing multiple points of view to the table for discussions and research regarding guns and gun control will help keep misconceptions from spreading to begin with, Professor George Mocsary told Cowboy State Daily. 

“Folks in the field who come at it from different directions don’t talk to each other,” he said. “Journalists without subject matter expertise will sometimes oversimplify things. Lots of people get left out and voices get ignored.” 

Mocsary hopes to rectify that. He recently founded the Firearms Research Center through UW’s College of Law. He hopes to garner information from gun rights and gun control advocacy groups – as well as experts in social sciences, health, law and other fields. 

“We want to bring clarity to the topic by involving as many stakeholders as we can,” he said. 

George Mocsary, a professor at the University of Wyoming, is founder of the Firearms Research Center through UW’s College of Law. (Courtesy Photo)

The ‘Assault Rifle’ Conundrum 

Many of the heated arguments over gun policy in America have for several years swirled around “assault rifles” – or semi-automatic long guns such as AR-15s and civilian-model AK-47s. 

The term “assault weapon” does have specific meaning in a strict military sense, Mocsary said. However, in public discourse it became an essentially meaningless buzzword to describe exterior features on some firearms, such as detachable box-style ammunition magazines and barrel shrouds. 

Meanwhile, gun advocates came up with an equally murky term, “modern sporting rifles,” which frequently left different interest groups simply talking past each other, he said. 

Grim Numbers 

National discourse, and rancor, over firearms used to pivot around handguns, Mocsary said. But that started to shift in the 1980s, as those wanting strict gun restrictions started focusing more on semi-automatic long guns. 

However, the numbers can clear things up, he added. The 2019 statistics show that handguns are still murders’ firearms of choice. 

He noted that according to FBI crime reports, of the 10,258 firearm murders in 2019, 6,368 were committed with handguns, 364 with rifles, and 200 with shotguns, with the type of gun unspecified for the remaining 3,326. 

By comparison, in 2018, 1,476 people murder victims were killed with knives, and 600 were beaten and/or kicked to death, he said. 

What About Money From Gun Companies? 

Much of the funding for the Firearms Research Center will come from gun companies, but Mocsary said that won’t taint its mission. 

“Nobody’s allowed to put content conditions on our work,” he said. “Other research centers get money from gun control advocates, and those gun control advocates aren’t allowed to tell them what to do. Fundamentally, there’s not a political element to our research center. 

“I don’t know if we could be partisan if we tried, with this many voices involved in the conversation with us,” he added. 

Hunters Often Overlooked 

Hunters are one group Mocsary thinks have been underrepresented in the national discourse about guns, so he hopes to hear more from them. 

And going deeper, racial and ethnic minorities who enjoy hunting might have been left out completely, he said. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen any of those kind of groups being given a voice,” he said. 

Current Wyoming Gun Bills 

Mocsary declined to comment on firearms-related bills before the Wyoming Legislature, including measures that would allow for concealed carry in more public spaces, such as the UW campus. 

“Some legislators did approach us for information,” he said. “We could be an informational resource for them.” 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter