When people envision a self-defense incident involving a firearm, they typically think of shots fired. You might be surprised that the majority of incidents of defensive gun use never result in the discharge of a firearm.

In a comprehensive survey of 54,000 adults, 16,708 of whom owned guns, Centiment found that guns are used in self-defense approximately 1.7 million times a year, the vast majority of which never involve firing a shot.

Thirty-one percent of the gun owners said they had used a firearm to defend themselves or their property, often on multiple occasions. As in previous research, the vast majority of such incidents (82 percent) did not involve firing a gun, let alone injuring or killing an attacker. In more than four-fifths of the cases, respondents reported that brandishing a weapon or mentioning a firearm was enough to eliminate the threat.
-Reason Magazine, The Largest-Ever Survey of American Gun Owners Finds That Defensive Use of Firearms Is Common

What is Brandishing?

Brandishing is not a harmless act. It can quickly escalate a tense situation, which can result in severe legal, social, and personal consequences, and it is essential to understand what it means and the implications of doing so.

“Brandishing” is the act of displaying a weapon, typically a firearm or a knife, in a manner that is threatening, aggressive, or intended to intimidate others. It involves showing or waving the weapon in a way that suggests an imminent threat or harm to someone, even if no physical harm actually occurs.

In most jurisdictions, brandishing is considered a dangerous and potentially criminal behavior, as it can lead to fear, apprehension, and escalated conflicts, often resulting in legal consequences. The specifics of what constitutes brandishing may vary depending on local laws and regulations.

The specific actions that qualify as brandishing may vary depending on local laws, but the common denominator is the intent to create fear or apprehension in others.

PODCAST: The Laws of Brandishing, Shooting to Wound, and Warning Shots

The Legal Implications of Brandishing a Weapon

Assault Charges: Brandishing a weapon can expose you to criminal charges, including assault or aggravated assault, depending on the circumstances. Even if no physical harm occurs, the mere act of brandishing a weapon can be considered an assault because it puts others in fear of imminent harm. The severity of the charges and potential penalties may vary from state to state.

Illegal Weapons Possession: In many jurisdictions, brandishing a weapon could lead to additional charges related to the unlawful possession of the weapon. If you do not have a valid permit or license to carry the weapon, you may face additional legal consequences. What may be legal in your home jurisdiction may not be in the area where you brandished.

Concealed Carry Laws: Some locations have strict concealed carry laws that dictate how and where firearms can be carried. Brandishing a concealed weapon inappropriately can result in serious legal repercussions.

Stand Your Ground Laws: In states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, individuals are allowed to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves when they perceive a threat. However, the circumstances in which this is justified can be complex and subject to legal interpretation.

The Social and Personal Implications

Damage to Reputation: Brandishing a weapon can seriously damage your reputation. The act can be seen as aggressive, reckless, or even criminal, and it may lead to social ostracization or loss of trust from those who are ideologically against gun ownership, including business associates, friends, and even family.

Psychological Impact: Brandishing a weapon can also have a profound psychological impact on both the person doing it and those who witness it. It can create long-lasting trauma, fear, and anxiety for everyone involved.

Escalation of Conflict: Displaying a weapon in a confrontation can escalate the situation quickly, increasing the likelihood of violence and harm to all parties involved.

Legal Expenses: Defending against criminal charges and potential civil lawsuits can be financially draining. Legal fees, fines, and the cost of restitution can accumulate rapidly.

READ MORE: Why Brandishing is a Bad Idea… and Warning Shots…


Brandishing a weapon is not a decision to be taken lightly. The legal consequences can be severe, ranging from assault charges to unlawful weapons possession, depending on the circumstances and local laws.  Moreover, the social and personal implications can be equally damaging, affecting your reputation, mental well-being, and relationships.

If you can deescalate a dangerous encounter or escape, it is preferable to brandishing a weapon. However, if you must then know that Second Call Defense members are covered for legal defense involving criminal and civil charges that may result from brandishing a weapon.

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*Second Call Defense is not insurance and does not sell or promote insurance products.  Second Call Defense is a membership organization that provides its members access to the “Second Amendment Support Foundation, Inc.,” which provides the means necessary to protect Second Call Defense members from the legal aftermath of exercising their right to self-defense. For an overview of the differences between Second Call Defense Member Benefits and traditional insurance, click here