A $10 billion lawsuit by Mexico against U.S. gunmakers, alleging that the companies “deliberately” enabled firearms trafficking into the country, can move forward, an appeals court has ruled.
The lawsuit, filed by the Mexican government against seven American manufacturers and a distributor in 2021, alleged that the companies “deliberately facilitate gun trafficking” into Mexico, according to the Jan. 22 ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.
The complaint was initially filed at the federal district court in Massachusetts, which dismissed the lawsuit after deciding that U.S. gun companies were protected by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) against Mexican claims.
The PLCAA prohibits certain lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers in U.S. federal and state courts. The appeals court agreed that “PLCAA’s limitations on the types of lawsuits that may be maintained in the United States apply to lawsuits initiated by foreign governments for harm suffered outside the United States.”
However, the appeals court observed that Mexico’s complaint potentially alleges a type of claim that could be “statutorily exempt” from PLCAA rules.
“We therefore reverse the district court’s holding that the PLCAA bars Mexico’s common law claims, and we remand for further proceedings,” the court stated.
“We conclude that the complaint adequately alleges that defendants aided and abetted the knowingly unlawful downstream trafficking of their guns into Mexico.”
The lawsuit seeks $10 billion in compensation.
Jonathan Lowy, president of Global Action on Gun Violence and co-counsel for the Mexican government in the case, welcomed the appeals court decision.
“Today’s ruling is a huge step forward in holding the gun industry accountable for its contribution to gun violence, and in stopping the flood of trafficked guns to the cartels,” he said in a Jan. 22 statement.
“Not only did the Court recognize the right of another country to sue U.S. gun companies, it also pierced the unfair legal shield that gun companies have been hiding behind since 2005.”
Texas-based litigator Steve Shadowen said the court ruling “marks an important step forward in holding the gun industry accountable for its role in transnational arms trafficking and in obtaining justice for the victims of their unlawful business practices, the people of Mexico.”
Lawrence Keane, chief lobbyist and media spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), disagrees with the decision. The organization is “reviewing our legal options,” he said in a Jan. 23 post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Mexico should spend its time enforcing its own laws & bring Mexican criminals to justice in Mexican courtrooms, instead of scapegoating the firearm industry for their unwillingness to protect Mexican citizens,” he wrote.
Kostas Moros, an attorney who represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association, called Mexico’s argument in the case “comical on its face,” according to an X post.
“The basic idea is US gun laws are causing violence in Mexico. But that country has six times our homicide rate. If some smuggled guns from here are the problem in Mexico, we’d have a much worse problem here,” he said.
“Mexico’s complete failure to bring cartels to heel is not the fault of the United States nor its Second Amendment.
“These cartels are extremely wealthy and would always be able to get a hold of firearms. They are billion-dollar sophisticated businesses, not random gangbangers. Plus, Mexico has long had very high homicide rates. This isn’t some new thing.”
Focus on US Gun Industry
In its lawsuit, Mexico states that while having strict gun laws, the country has the third highest gun-related deaths globally. Mexico claims that it has just one gun store in the entire nation and issues fewer than 50 firearm permits annually.
“The number of gun-related homicides in Mexico grew from fewer than 2,500 in 2003 to approximately 23,000 in 2019. The percentage of homicides committed with a gun similarly rose from 15 percent in 1997 to 69 percent in 2021,” the appeals court ruling states.
Mexico insists that the increase in gun violence “correlates with the increase of gun production in the United States” since the end in 2004 of the U.S. ban on so-called assault weapons.
“Mexico claims that between 70 and 90 percent of the guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico were trafficked into the country from the United States.”
Mexico’s claims have been opposed by a coalition of 20 state attorneys general who filed an amicus brief in the case seeking to protect U.S. firearms makers.
“Mexico claims that gun violence in its country increased because of the expiration of the U.S. assault weapons ban in 2004,” the brief said. “But homicide rates in Mexico declined in the three years after the assault-weapons ban ended and didn’t increase until Mexico declared war on its drug cartels in late 2006.”
It dismissed the argument that U.S. manufacturers are to blame for increased gun violence in Mexico.
This theory “rests entirely on the factual assertion that American gun manufacturers knowingly cause Mexican gun violence. But its theory falls apart under even cursory scrutiny.”
“Contrary to Mexico’s claims that American guns are ‘among the deadliest and most often recovered at crime scenes in Mexico,’ only a minority of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico can be traced back to the United States,” the states argued.
“Among the American guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, many were sold wholesale to the Mexican military and law enforcement and only ended up in cartel hands after soldiers or policemen deserted.”
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin told The Epoch Times in May 2023 that the lawsuit was “part of a broad strategy by anti-gun activists to try to shut down firearms manufacturing” in the United States.
“Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to protect American businesses from these kinds of frivolous lawsuits.”