Brandishing is the act of displaying a gun in a manner meant to intimidate, threaten or otherwise make a person feel bad. Most of the time it denotes a handgun, but it would apply equally to a long gun.
Be aware that the legal definition will vary from state to state. You need to do your due diligence to understand how YOUR state defines brandishing; we aren’t lawyers, this isn’t legal advice.
Brandishing is different from a defensive display of a handgun. The latter, which is incidentally the most common form of defensive gun use, is the act of producing a gun when sufficiently threatened. If you aren’t being reasonably threatened and you pull a gun on someone, you’re brandishing. If that person isn’t threatening you enough to warrant the use of a firearm, you’re brandishing.
Some states, such as Florida, may term it as “improper” or “offensive exhibition of a weapon” but it all basically amounts to the same thing: showing someone a weapon in a deliberately threatening or reckless manner.
In other words, you either meant to scare someone with the weapon or you didn’t care if you did.
Knives count too, by the way, as does a baseball bat or any other deadly weapon, so don’t think this is a gun-only crime.
Additionally, brandishing is not the same as “printing,” sometimes known as imprinting. When you’re carrying a concealed pistol, it sometimes occurs that a portion of it – say the slide or the grip – will imprint a bit through your shirt. In other words, the outline of your handgun may become visible.
This isn’t the same as brandishing, since you have to positively display a gun for someone to clearly see. Open carry isn’t treated the same, either. People who open carry (a holstered pistol) generally do so in a safe manner and aren’t threatening anyone specifically.So let’s deal in some illustrative examples.
Imagine a hypothetical man and his wife – we’ll call them John and Jane – are walking from their local enormous shopping center into the parking garage. John and Jane both have permits and they carry concealed handguns.
A mugger emerges with a knife and says, “Gimme your wallets and those new iPhones too, or else.” Jane draws her handgun and brings it to bear on the mugger.
Said mugger says, “Whoa! I guess I don’t need it that badly,” and shuffles off with all deliberate speed.
That’s not brandishing. In this hypothetical example, John and Jane were being threatened with a knife. That’s deadly force, and Jane was completely justified in her response.
Now let’s imagine a different hypothetical.
Imagine a man named Chad. Chad drives a lifted Ford F-150 to compensate, Oakley sunglasses, a MAGA hat, still wears cargo pants despite being 47 years old, and has become even MORE obnoxious since his second divorce.
Chad is driving home and starts tailgating a Prius with a Feel The Bern bumper sticker in the left lane, despite the car driving a fairly reasonable 65 mph in a 60 mph zone. He honks his horn, flashes his lights, and still the car doesn’t pull into the right hand lane. Chad goes berserk.
Eventually, the Prius does pull into the right hand lane, but Chad doesn’t just drive on. His idiotic mind – if you could call what people like him have as a “mind” – won’t let him. He races forward, swerves into the right-hand lane, brakes hard in the middle of the freeway, and when the Prius passes to avoid slamming into his bumper, he waves his GLOCK 19 at the driver while screaming obscenities.
The driver naturally calls the police, and Chad is arrested for brandishing and reckless driving. He winds up on probation, has to undergo court-ordered anger management, loses his gun rights and both of his wives decide they’re tired of his BS and get full custody of the kids, (who didn’t really like him anyway).
In this hypothetical, Chad pulled his gun because he got incredibly angry over…basically nothing…and paid the price for it. There was no threat, and no justification whatsoever in taking his gun out.
Let us also consider a third situation, similar to the first.
A hypothetical man – we’ll call him…Roger – goes to the local shopping mall. After buying whatever it was he needed, he goes to the car park to leave. There he is accosted by someone asking for gas money. Knowing that it’s a typical ruse used by muggers, Roger says he doesn’t keep cash on him and wishes the person luck.
The mugger then tries to bum rush Roger, who sees him coming with his peripheral vision and draws his concealed carry gun. The mugger stops and runs away. Roger goes home, his nerves wracked and doesn’t sleep a wink knowing he was almost the victim of a violent crime.
The mugger calls the police, saying some guy in the parking garage pulled a gun on him when he was asking for gas money, and gives them Roger’s description and license plate number. Since police don’t conduct background checks on people who file reports (at least right away) they don’t have any other story to go on, and arrest Roger for brandishing and assault with a deadly weapon.
Granted, these are just hypothetical examples, but what isn’t hypothetical is that all of these scenarios have actually happened in real life. Start Googling defensive gun uses and you’ll find examples of people who have drawn, but not fired to defend themselves. You’ll find examples of people who pulled a gun out in road rage incidents and were arrested.
You’ll also find instances where people drew or even used a gun under judicious circumstances…but who didn’t think to establish a narrative with the police, to their cost.
Some people wonder about brandishing is whether or not a bit of printing will or could be treated as brandishing under the law.
Again, this isn’t legal advice. Talk to a lawyer if you need actual legal advice.
To the best of my knowledge, and I read a fair amount on this subject, the only state that seems to put explicit emphasis on the idea of MAINTAIN CONCEALMENT OR ELSE! in its concealed carry laws is South Carolina. South Carolina does not allow open carry; it’s carry concealed with your permit or leave it at home. However, a few other states – including Illinois, New York and Florida – likewise prohibit open carry of a handgun and therefore mandate the same.
In essence, these states mandate that a person can carry a handgun in public (if licensed to do so), but must only carry in a concealed fashion.
So since printing isn’t maintaining “perfect concealment,” is that technically brandishing?
I’m not aware of a single court case where a person was arrested, tried and convicted of brandishing a weapon for not maintaining perfect concealment. I have incidentally read anecdotes where a person in those states has been talked to by a police officer, who will usually say, “Hey, try to cover that up a bit better; try a looser shirt or getting a smaller gun.” Or something along those lines.
If you know of such a case, let us know in the comments.
In short, brandishing is the positive (meaning you had to actually draw it) displaying of a weapon in order to psychologically discomfit a person who either wasn’t threatening you or wasn’t threatening you enough to warrant the use of a deadly weapon. And yes, that’s open to police officer and prosecutor interpretation.
So, how do you avoid putting yourself in a situation where you might be accused of brandishing?
Many instances of brandishing occur when tiffs over ephemera get out of hand and some yokel, some putz, some world class a-hole pulls out a gun. Therefore…don’t do that.
Don’t get into stupid arguments with people, and don’t escalate conflicts. Avoid them at all costs. You profit not at all by being a jerk.
You might see yourself as some sort of macho alpha male, but you aren’t; you’re just another chattering meatbag with an expiration date like everyone else, acting like you and your petty crap really matters.
So calm down! Stop taking things so seriously. Don’t get into dumb fights.
This applies also to road rage. If someone is making you mad while you’re driving, slow down. Just wait until you can pass them or let them do so and just get over it. You won’t get there any faster by flipping them off or waiving your Walther around.
Again, statutes differ. Make sure you have taken the time to read and understand the laws in your state regarding armed self-defense. It is incumbent upon you to know them, and to act only if in that letter and spirit. If you don’t, you may face stiff consequences.
As for that last hypothetical, call the police if you are threatened in public and draw your gun. Get a name if possible and description of the person. Even if they never find them, the police act on the narrative that they are given. It therefore behooves you to give them that narrative first.
In short, what will keep you from ever having to worry about brandishing is to never draw a gun unless you face a very real and immediate threat to your life or the lives of your loved ones.
Any comments, questions, concerns? Want to heckle? Go ahead, make my day. Sound off in the comments.