Suing Gun Manufacturers: Hazardous to Our Health

Policy Reports | Crime | Government | Regulations

No. 223
Monday, March 01, 1999
by H. Sterling Burnett

Appendix II: The Hamilton Verdict

On February 11, 1999, after six days of deliberation, the jury in the Hamilton case rendered its verdict.117 In what jury members admitted was a tortuous compromise, for the first time ever a jury held some gun manufacturers liable for shooting injuries on the basis of negligent marketing and distribution practices.118 Although post-trial interviews revealed that eight of the 11 jurors opposed finding either negligence or liability, the jury found 15 of the 25 manufacturers at least partially to blame for three of the seven shootings in question and awarded damages in one. It found six companies negligent but decided that their negligence did not contribute to any of the plaintiffs' injuries. It found six companies negligent and liable but did not require them to pay damages. And it found three companies negligent and liable in one case and ordered them to split $500,000 in damages - despite the absence of evidence linking the companies' products to the plaintiff's injuries. The jury found no negligence or liability for the other 10 manufacturers.

On several occasions during the deliberations the jury informed Judge Weinstein that it was hopelessly deadlocked - in one instance members even indicated that tempers were flaring. Judge Weinstein refused to allow a hung jury and declare a mistrial. In post-trial interviews members of the jury stated that they came to a compromise verdict simply to get the trial over with. The jurors indicated that they rejected the plaintiffs' contention that gun makers oversupplied to states with lax laws guns that were then illegally sold by black marketers in states with more stringent laws. Instead, they determined that gun makers who did not forbid their distributors from dealing with retailers who sold guns at gun shows were negligent in their distribution practices.

In response to the verdict, Richard Feldman, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, said, "It's as if the jury threw darts at a target to decide who they would blame and who would be exonerated. . . the verdict is being appealed and we fully expect the decision to be reversed."119

Even if this verdict is overturned on appeal, it seems likely to set a precedent which bolsters the cities' lawsuits.

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