Gunslinging justice

The American culture of gun violence in Westerns and the law

By Justin Joyce

Gunslinging justice


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2616-0
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: August 2018
  • BIC Category: Literary essays, LAW / Legal History, PERFORMING ARTS / Film & Video / History & Criticism, PERFORMING ARTS / Film / Genres / Westerns, Criminal Justice Law, The arts / Film: styles & genres, The arts / Film theory & criticism, Westerns, United States of America, USA, Small firearms, guns & other equipment


This book is a cultural history of the interplay between the Western genre and American gun rights and legal paradigms. From muskets in the hands of landed gentry opposing tyrannical government to hidden pistols kept to ward off potential attackers, the historical development of entwined legal and cultural discourses has sanctified the use of gun violence by private citizens and specified the conditions under which such violence may be legally justified. Gunslinging justice explores how the Western genre has imagined new justifications for gun violence which American law seems ever-eager to adopt.


'What does John Wayne have to do with the shooting of Trayvon Martin? How are The Last of the Mohicans and Clint Eastwood connected to the 2008 Supreme Court case that defined current interpretations of the 2nd Amendment? Justin Joyce's insightful study, Gunslinging justice: The American culture of gun violence in Westerns and the law, brilliantly explains the roots of America's glorification of violent white masculinity, Old West assumptions about the ideal citizen and his gun, as well as the historical development of so-called "stand your ground" laws. Moving effortlessly from classic literature to Hollywood Westerns, from property rights to race and the Constitution, Joyce explains the ways in which American jurisprudence shaped, and was shaped by, frontier mythologizing of Anglo masculine gun violence as a noble act-whether of self-defense, justice, or revenge.'
Sara L. Spurgeon, Professor of American Literature, Texas Tech University

'Joyce is doing a lot of things at once. Film readings, jurisdictional reappraisal, legal history and cultural theory mixed with contemporary popular commentary. It is a brave and bold attempt to mingle self-defence doctrines as understood in law with homicide on an industrial scale in America's most racked societies and see where the resultant cultural frames of reference might fall in the hope of providing answers.'
Ian Scott, University of Manchester, Cercles: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Studies (2019)

'The book is a product of unique academic expertise and a model of interdisciplinary scholarship. Joyce places fundamental works of the Western genre in illuminating new frameworks. Gunslinging Justice is a major contribution to the ongoing debate about the Western as a manifestation of American gun culture.'
Western American Literature

'Justin Joyce takes a unique approach to understanding the [Second] amendment in his book Gunslinging Justice. Joyce reflects on the interrelation­ship between American law and culture by tracing the development of self-defense jurisprudence and notions of justifiable gun use in cinematic westerns. Rather than arguing how to interpret the law, he considers its cultural influence by locating evidence of the emerging self-defense doctrine in westerns. Joyce's argument sidesteps contentious discussions of morality to instead examine America's changing mindset about maintaining order on the fringes of society... Gunslinging Justice ultimately invites readers to question justice in a nation plagued by mass violence.'
The Journal of American Culture

'The Western, set as it is against a "lawless frontier," serves as a point of contention between the civilizing settlers and the rugged individualist, and thus between the ideals of civilized, dispassionate justice and its swift, passionate, poetic version ... As the emphasis in American thought evolved from communal to individual defense, virtue changed from retreat to resistance, both concepts, Joyce argues, are most clearly manifested in the Western gunslinger... In all, Justin Joyce's monograph provides a unique and interesting perspective on the Western genre, particularly as it has evolved in conjunction with understandings of violence in American jurisprudence and culture. While his text occasionally veers into sociological theory that may prove a bit dense for an undergraduate reader, his numerous examples and analysis make the text readily comprehensible for academic readers. And, in a time when national headlines are filled with instances of racialized shootings by police or frightened citizens claiming to have acted in self-defense, it seems necessary to come to a fuller understanding of how the Western genre has influenced our society's past and how it continues to do so even today.'
The Journal of Popular Culture


Introduction: the warp, woof, and weave of American gun violence
1 'A kind of wild justice': revenge and constitutional commentary in the Western
2 No retreat: American self-defense doctrine
3 American gun rights: from national defense to self-defense
4 The guns that 'won the Western': firearm iconography in western literature and film
5 Guns and governmentality: normative masculinity and disciplined gun violence
6 Deserve's got [everything] to do with it: property, process, and justice in Unforgiven
7 Old dogs and new tricks: race and justifiable homicide in neoliberalism's Western imagination


Justin A. Joyce is Research Director for President McBride at The New School and Managing Editor of the James Baldwin Review

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