Legal Terms: Brandishing

According to Merriam-Webster, brandishing is to shake or wave (something, such as a weapon) menacingly or exhibit in an ostentatious or aggressive manner.

Actions from resting your hand on the grip of your pistol or knife or sweeping your cover garment aside to expose your conceal carry weapon may be considered brandishing.

Most states do not have a legal definition of brandishing, but that doesn’t mean that brandishing a firearm, whether accidentally or with the intention of intimidating, won’t result in criminal charges.

Have you heard of anyone brandishing in your city or state? What happened?


Have not seen it charged but the definition is very loosely worded. So “brandishing” or “improper exhibition” or “defensive display” or “unlawful display” (or whatever your state and jurisdiction calls it) depends specifically on your state and jurisdiction . Very generally, however, for an operating definition “brandishing” means to display, show, wave, or exhibit the firearm in a manner which another person might find threatening . You can see how widely and differently this can be subjectively interpreted by different “reasonable” individuals and entities. The crime can actually be committed in some states by not even pointing a firearm at someone. In some states it’s a Misdemeanor crime and in others a Felony. So, focus, think rationally, know your state’s law, and be careful out there.

It seems that the definition of brandishing is defined by the perception of the viewer or the criminal justice system.

I would surmise that delaying the display of a weapon till you are committed to using it is the safest legal position.


It seems that the definition of brandishing is defined by the perception of the viewer or the criminal justice system.

This could be the case, and once again, in a case like this it actually would be up to YOU to prove YOUR innocents.

But, with this all said, if you are going to expose a firearm from behind a cover garment, rest a hand on the grip while in the holster, etc etc, in leu of presentation, there really must be a bad guy in the immediate action of threatening you. The last thing an aggressor would want to do would be to call LE and say “…Hey, I was about to rob and assault this dude or lady and they pulled their shirt up exposing their gun…”


Michigan does define brandishing as pointing or waving around in a threatening or intimidating manner. This is, of course, dumbing down the legalese of it.


In North Carolina, brandishing laws are murky, with lot of grey areas open for interpretation. When training for my CCW permit, I was trained to never brandish. Period. Exactly because our state laws are murky and usually the brandish-er will be charged.

I’ll never say “never,” however brandishing in general is a bad idea, one I was trained not to do.


I heard this quote from a 2013 video, that in the U.S., “each year 2.5 million Americans brandished their gun in defense, and the perpetrator ran away”. I don’t know exactly what or whom was being defended, however found it interesting that the FA didn’t have to be fired, and glad no one got hurt.

Some training might caution us against brandishing, and in brandishing, we risk legal ramifications, however if we fire, those risks are high as well. Does brandishing have its place?

When should we brandish, Vs. keep it holstered, Vs. fire? Complex indeed. It seems to involve defense strategies but legal information as well, thus differing per region.

Should this instead be in a separate new topic string? Suggested videos, vignettes?

1 Like

I teach my students that “Brandishing” is when you knowingly present your firearm with the intent of scaring someone by just exposing it “outside” of the holster. This is wrong.

This is not to be confused with drawing and presenting your firearm with the full intent of using lethal force, and upon this presentation a threat is stopped, retreats, withdraws “runs away” at the very last moment, whereupon you can safely look your firearm back into it’s holster and call 911.


That seems like a made-up statistic. I find it very difficult to believe that every year, 2.5 million Americans call the police and report that they brandished their firearms in self-defense. I know we’re taught to report this type of event, but I just find it difficult to accept that so many people actually do this. I could be wrong. I would be very interested to find out how that came to this number. I’d wager they took a base number and then made some assumptions to project that out to 2.5 million.

Keep it holstered/hidden unless you have the justified need to use deadly force. If presenting your firearm is enough to make your adversary reconsider his life choices and you don’t have to squeeze the trigger, then your day won’t be quite as bad as it could have been. But if you are using your firearm to intimidate someone in a situation where lethal force is not justified, you could be charged with a felony.

You only get second(s) to make these decisions, but the jury will get weeks.

1 Like