Gunslinging justice

The American culture of gun violence in Westerns and the law

Author: Justin A. Joyce

Gunslinging justice explores American Westerns in a variety of media alongside the historical development of the American legal system to argue that Western shootouts are less overtly ‘anti-law’ than has been previously assumed. While the genre’s climactic shootouts may look like a putatively masculine opposition to the codified and mediated American legal system, this gun violence is actually enshrined in the development of American laws regulating self-defense and gun possession. The climactic gun violence and stylized revenge drama of seminal Western texts then, seeks not to oppose ‘the law,’ but rather to expand its scope. The book’s interdisciplinary approach, which seeks to historicize and contextualize the iconographic tropes of the genre and its associated discourses across varied cultural and social forms, breaks from psychoanalytic perspectives which have long dominated studies of film and legal discourse and occluded historical contingencies integral to the work cultural forms do in the world. From nineteenth-century texts like Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Reconstruction-era dime novels, through early twentieth-century works like The Virginian, to classic Westerns and more recent films like Unforgiven (1992), this book looks to the intersections between American law and various media that have enabled a cultural, social, and political acceptance of defensive gun violence that is still with us today.

Abstract only
Log-in for full text

 

‘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
January 2020

‘That Gunslinging Justice invites polemical responses ultimately attests to the relevance and strength of the author’s argument. 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
February 2020

‘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
August 2020

‘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
August 2020

    • Full book download (PDF with hyperlinks)
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1823 239 30
Full Text Views 1023 32 3
PDF Downloads 834 253 15