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Legally Targeting Gun Makers: Lessons for Business Ethics

  • Ronald M. Green


As a “case” in business ethics, the conduct of the firearms industry is hardly dilemmatic. The responsible choices before firearm manufacturers have long been clear, if largely neglected. The great interest here for business ethicists lies in understanding how civil law and ethics can work together to bring a rogue industry under control. Business ethicists have a role to play in shaping the formation of legal standards in this area. In turn, emerging concepts of manufacturers’ liability can make a contribution to the teaching of business ethics.



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1 See R. N. Anderson et al., “Report of Final Mortality Statistics, 1995,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 45 (1997): 54–56. According to Anderson et al. in 1995, 52 percent of gun deaths were suicides, 44 percent were homicides, 3 percent were unintentional, and 1 percent were of undetermined intent. My discussion of the epidemiology of gun violence draws on Susan DeFrancesco, “Children and Guns,” Pace Law Review 19 (1999): 275–284 at 276– 278.

2 Anderson et al., “Final Mortality Statistics, 1995”; DeFrancesco, “Children and Guns,” p. 276.

3 Anderson et al., “Final Mortality Statistics, 1995”; L. A. Fingerhut et al., National Center for Health Statistics, Injury Chart Book (1997); DeFrancesco, “Children and Guns,” p. 277.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-related Death among Children—26 Industrialized Countries,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 46 (1997): 101–105.

5 National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Cat. No. 002043, Smith and Wesson Trade Catalog (1895); R. G. Jinks, History of Smith and Wesson (North Hollywood, Calif.: Beinfeld Publishing, Inc., 1997); S. P. Teret et al., “Making Guns Safer,” Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 1998, pp. 37–40; DeFrancesco, “Children and Guns,” pp. 279–280.

6 Colt Mfg., Inc. Advertisement. Ladies Home Journal, July 1992. Quoted in DeFrancesco, “Children and Guns,” p. 283.

7 A. L. Kellermann et al., “Weapon Involvement in Home Invasion Crimes,” JAMA 273 (1995): 1759–62.

8 David Kairys, “Legal Claims of Cities against the Manufacturers of Handguns,” Temple Law Review 71(1998): 1–16 at 5.

9 Fox Butterfield, “Gun Flow to Criminals Laid to Tiny Fraction of Dealers,” The New York Times, July 1, 1999, p. A12.

10 Affidavit of Robert I. Hass at 20-21, Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 935 F. Supp. 1307 (E.D.N.Y. 1996). Quoted in Kairys, p. 7.

11 Kairys, p. 8, n17.

12 For a discussion and critique of this approach, see John P. McNicholas and Matthew McNicholas, “Ultrahazardous Products Liability: Providing Victims of Well-Made Firearms Ammunition to Fire Back at Gun Manufacturers,” Loyola (Los Angles) Law Review 30 (1997): 1599–1640.

13 In re 101 California St., No. 959316, slip op. at 7 (Cal. Super. Ct. S.F. County Apr. 10, 1995) (opinion and order re demurrers). For a detailed account of this case, see Joi Gardner Pearson, “Make It, Market It, and You May Have to Pay for It: An Evaluation of Gun Manufacturer Liability for the Criminal Use of Uniquely Dangerous Firearms in Light of In re 101 California Street,” Brigham Young University Law Review 131 (1997): 131–167. For the current status of this case, see Barbara Vobejda, “Why a Colorado Pistol Has ‘DC’ in Its Name; Relabeling Helps Firms Skirt Gun Laws,” The Washington Post, May 1, 1999, Section A, p. 1.

14 This theory is based on section 390 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which states: “One who supplies … a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely … to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to … others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.” Restatement (Second) of Torts 390 (1965).

15 California Civil Code 1714.4(b)(2) (West 1985).

16 Lizette Alvarez, “A Republican Seeks to Ban Suits against Gun Makers,” The New York Times, March 10, 1999. Internet edition.

17 Joseph P. Fried, “9 Gun Makers Called Liable for Shootings,” The New York Times, February 12, 1999, Internet edition.

18 For examples of this basic theoretical work, see Elizabeth C. Price, “Toward a Unified Theory of Products Liability: Reviving the Causative Concept of Legal Fault,” Tennessee Law Review 61 (1994): 1277–1355 and Alan Brudner, “Owning Outcomes: On Intervening Causes, Thin Skulls, and Fault-undifferentiated Crimes,” The Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 11 (1998): 89–114.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
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