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The American gun debate is increasingly populated with scenes of people pointing and otherwise displaying guns. What is the legal regime governing gun displays, and how well can it address the distinct social and legal problems they pose? In this Essay, we argue that the current structure of criminal law does not supply clear rules of conduct sufficient to avoid the negative effects of gun displays, and that the rhetorical and expressive effects of Second Amendment debates threaten to make the situation worse. We also suggest how the legal rules might be improved, and how battles over norms—as much as criminal prohibitions and defenses—will continue to shape both social practice and law when it comes to displays of firearms in public and towards other persons.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Firearms ownership, Firearms--Law and legislation, Self-defense (Law)