Mexico asks appeals court to reopen lawsuit against US gun manufacturers

The Mexican government is seeking to reopen a dismissed lawsuit over what it believes are gunmakers’ negligent sales practices, which the suit says allow criminal groups to smuggle firearms to Mexico, where gun purchases are almost entirely illegal.

High-caliber firearms are nearly impossible to obtain legally but are often smuggled into Mexico from the United States, where such weapons are sold in many regions close to the border.

Mexican government lawyers who presented their case in favor of the reopening of the $10 billion lawsuit against United States-based gun manufacturers expressed confidence that those arguments will be “well received.”

Mexico filed the lawsuit in a Boston court on August 4, 2021, blaming major US gunmakers for illegal cross-border arms flows that fuel violence.

The Mexican federal government sued gunmakers, including units of Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, and Glock Inc in August 2021, accusing them of negligent business practices that have led to illegal arms trafficking and deaths in Mexico, where U.S.-sourced firearms are used in a majority of high-impact crimes such as homicide. 

Firearms from the United States are used in seven out of every 10 high-impact crimes committed in Mexico, according to the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE).

The SRE said in a briefing note that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement organization within the United States Department of Justice, has confirmed that most guns seized by Mexican authorities come from north of the border.

“Between fiscal years 2012 and 2017, Mexican authorities seized and sent to the ATF for verification a total of 98,654 weapons, of which 69,140 – in other words, 70% – were traced to an origin (manufacture or legal importation) in the United States,” the note said.

The SRE also said that various estimates show that more than 200,000 guns are smuggled into Mexico every year, and that the percentage of murders committed with firearms has been increasing for the past seven years.

In the complaint, the Mexican government alleged that the companies undermined the country’s gun laws by designing, marketing, and selling high-powered weapons that appeal to criminal organizations.

Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor dismissed the claim in federal court in Boston in September 2022, ruling that U.S. law “unequivocally” prohibits litigation to hold gun manufacturers responsible when people use their products for their intended purpose.

That ruling prompted the SRE to file an appeal in March.

The SRE noted in a statement on Monday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston had “heard Mexico’s oral arguments in its lawsuit against gun manufacturers.”  

As part of its legal strategy against illicit arms trafficking, Mexico argued that the U.S. law granting immunity to gunmakers and dealers does not apply to damages caused in Mexican territory.

At that time, the federal judge hearing the case ruled that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) grants immunity to the defendant companies, even if the damage occurred in Mexican territory.

However, the judge’s decision states, “While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organizations, it is duty-bound to follow the law.”

Judge Saylor also acknowledged that the lawsuit successfully argued that the practices of the defendant companies are an indirect cause of the gun violence in Mexico.

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