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‘We will have our day in court.’ Mexican government cheers revival of lawsuit against gun makers

 <b>Weapons that were confiscated from organized crime and turned in by civilians slated for destruction in Mexico City in 2017.&nbsp;</b>
The Associated Press
Weapons that were confiscated from organized crime and turned in by civilians slated for destruction in Mexico City in 2017. 

The Mexican government expressed renewed hope this week that U.S. gun manufacturers allegedly contributing to the carnage in that country will finally be held accountable.

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a lawsuit the Mexican government filed against several American gun manufacturers can move forward, reversing a lower court ruling dismissing the case.

The Mexican government sued several weapons manufacturers in August 2021 for $10 billion, alleging the weapons makers contribute to the illicit flow of firearms into Mexico and “make deliberate design, marketing, and distribution choices to retain and grow that illegal market and the substantial profits that it produces,” according to court documents.

The defendants include Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Baretta Holdings, Ruger and Company, and Glock, Inc., among others.

A U.S. District Judge dismissed the case in September 2022 ruling that the weapons makers were shielded from the lawsuit under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. That law prohibits civil liability lawsuits for damages and other relief because of “the misuse of their products by others.”

The three-judge panel of the Fist Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the earlier court’s decision. The panel said that, while the act protects the manufacturers from most liability, there are exceptions that don’t prohibit lawsuits that result from “unlawful behavior.”

“The bottom line is that Mexico has plausibly alleged at least some injuries that it has suffered directly from the illegal trafficking of guns into Mexico,” wrote Judge William Kayatta.

Attorney Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, a counselor for Mexico’s foreign ministry, said Monday’s decision means his government could finally get some answers from gun manufacturers about the flow of their weapons south of the Rio Grande.

“Now we will have our day in court, and we will be able to produce evidence and ask for information from the defendants about how much they know of their firearms ending [up] in the hands of criminals,” he told Texas Public Radio.

In its lawsuit, Mexico alleges that between 70% and 90% of the weapons recovered at crime scenes there can be traced back to the United States. The lawsuit also claims that the gun manufacturers produce about 70% of the guns trafficked into Mexico, which is between 342,000 and 597,000 guns annually.

“Mexico alleges that defendants know that their guns are trafficked into Mexico and make deliberate design, marketing, and distribution choices to retain and grow that illegal market and the substantial profits that it produces,” Kayatta continued.

The decision is likely to rankle Second Amendment proponents who regularly argue that the United States isn’t responsible for the Mexican government’s inability to guarantee its citizens’ safety. In June, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took the lead on filing an amicus brief where he and dozens of other lawmakers said the lawsuit was an “affront” to U.S. sovereignty.

“What the government of Mexico is trying to do is impose its own interpretation of American law on American businesses,” Cruz said in a statement last year. “This demonstrates a disregard for our Constitution and in particular, our Second Amendment.”

The senator’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the appeals court’s decision.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade association, said Mexico should focus on problems in its own backyard instead of going after U.S. businesses.

“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,” Larry Keane, the NSSF’s general counsel said in a poston X.

Jonathan Lowy, a lawyer on the team representing Mexico, told NPR that Mexico is doing its best but the cartels have too many weapons.

“Mexico is doing a lot of work to protect its people and to stop the cartels from trafficking fentanyl and causing violence,” he said. “The problem is the cartels are so heavily armed with U.S. guns that they cannot get in Mexico. Mexico has very strong gun laws. That makes it very difficult for criminals to get guns.”

Lowy added that the United States will likely benefit as much as Mexico if the gun manufacturers are found liable.

“Mexico will see cartels with less arms – that will help people in the United States because it will enable to stop the fentanyl trafficking and violence that is spurring migration, but also lead to fewer crime guns on streets [in] U.S. cities,” he said.

The issue of American-made weapons flooding into Mexico has been a focal point for Mexican leaders for several years. In 2012, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon unveiled a sign in Ciudad Juarez that read “No More Weapons” made from the remnants of destroyed, American-made guns that made their way into Mexico (The billboard was taken down in 2015). Calderon argued that weapons smuggling into Mexico increased after the United States’ ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.

In 2019, after a white supremacist killed 23 people – including eight Mexican citizens – in a racist rampage in El Paso, former Mexican foreign secretary Marcelo Ebrard said his government was considering taking action against the gun makers.

Although that shooting occurred in the United States, Ebrard said the office would pursue action against “the sale and distribution of arms like the assault weapon that ended the lives” of the victims.

“[We are] analyzing, but we are definitely going to do it,” he said in Spanish.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom
Stephania Corpi is a Mexican journalist, documentary photographer and a co-host and co-producer of the Line in the Land and La Línea podcasts from Texas Public Radio.