A trip to a Civil War battlefield, changed Ashley Hlebinsky’s life.
Hlebinsky, who was named curator of the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West last December, is the first and only female firearms curator in the country. She originally had plans for medical school, but a history lesson about guns and war during a tour of Gettysburg took her in a new direction. “I thought it was fascinating,” she says. “So I changed my major from science to history.”
Hlebinsky, a 2007 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, earned her master’s in museum studies and American history at the University of Delaware. She interned in Pittsburgh at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum and then at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Hlebinsky, daughter of Mt. Lebanon Recreation Facilities Manager Bob Hlebinsky and his wife, Susan, oversees the Cody, Wyoming, museum’s collection of about 7,000 guns, manages the staff, awards scholarships, writes articles for gun publications and manages the museum’s public relations.
The 26-year-old has acquired a degree of fame, but she isn’t seeking fortunes—well, at least not to spend on herself. Hlebinsky says she’d like to save enough money so she can help small, local museums with their own gun collections.
In some ways, Hlebinsky is dealing with a man’s world. According to a 2013 PEW Research Center study, only 12 percent of women own a personal gun, while 37 percent of men are packing. And younger females are less likely to own guns.
Still, Hlebinsky says the gun community has never made her feel as if she wasn’t capable because she’s a woman. “It’s never been an issue for me,” she says. “I actually feel that I face more adversity because of my age than my gender.”
Visitors regularly assume Hlebinsky is an intern at the museum. “I have a young face, so people think I’m young,” she says. “But once I start talking it’s a different story.”
Hlebinsky would like the museum, home to the largest collection of Winchester rifles in the world, to become a place for everyone, not just for gun enthusiasts. She wants to open the doors to people who may think of razors, not rifles, when they hear the name “Remington.”
“I want this to be the place where, if you know nothing about guns or you’re afraid of guns or you hate guns, you can still learn about guns,” she says.