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: £80.00
  • Published Date: August 2018
  • BIC Category: United States of America, USA, Small firearms, guns & other equipment, Literary essays, LAW / Legal History, PERFORMING ARTS / Film & Video / History & Criticism, PERFORMING ARTS / Film / Genres / Westerns, The arts / Film: styles & genres, The arts / Film theory & criticism, Westerns, Criminal Justice Law


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.

Cover design by Jared Scott.


'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


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 Associate to Provost McBride at Emory University and Managing Editor of the James Baldwin Review

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