*This post was originally published on August 28, 2021. Read the latest updates in the case.
On August 4, Mexico filed a lawsuit against U.S. gun manufacturers with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Why Is Mexico Suing Gun Manufacturers?
Mexico wants to “expand responsibility for [its] gun violence.” As defendants, it named Smith & Wesson, Barrett, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt, Century Arms, Glock, and Interstate Arms. The country claims these gun manufacturers knowingly promote the sale and distribution of “illicit firearms” into Mexico.
Mexico alleges these manufacturers aren’t simply negligent. The lawsuit states that these companies,“design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico.” For example, the suit lists Colt’s .38 Super Emiliano Zapata 1911 Centennial Edition pistol. The handgun celebrates Zapata and is engraved with either “It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees” or “Tierra y Libertad” (“Land and Freedom”).
Mexico’s foreign secretary Marcelo Ebrard says this lawsuit aims to “make the defendant companies compensate the government of Mexico for the damage caused by their negligent practices.” Mexico wants $10 billion in damages from economic loss due to the policies of these gun manufacturers.
Mexico’s Gun Laws
Article 10 of the Constitution of Mexico declares that citizens have the right to own a gun. According to Luis Cresencio Sandoval, Mexico’s defense secretary, citizens may own one handgun for personal protection. To buy a rifle, citizens must prove they are a member of a shooting or hunting club. All guns must be registered. (The 1972 Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives forbids open or concealed carry.)
Realistically, it’s difficult for private citizens to legally purchase a gun. Mexico’s single firearms store, the Directorate of Arms and Munitions Sales, is located in a suburb of Mexico City. It is owned by the military. Each day it sells, on average, 38 firearms to civilians. To enter the store, one must apply in advance, produce a minimum of six identifying documents and undergo a physical search by armed soldiers.
Mexico’s Violence Problem
According to WorldPopulationReview.com, Mexico is one of the most violent nations on earth. With Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Central America, it accounts for 25 percent of all homicides. In 2017, 34,174 people were murdered in Mexico; in 2020, 24,617. The 2016, Global Criminality Index pegged Mexico as Latin America’s most dangerous country for journalists. Few murders are investigated, almost none are punished.
Britain’s The Guardian reports that as of September 2020, 69 politicians, including 22 candidates, were assassinated in Mexico’s election cycle. It claims that state and federal security forces actively colluded with and fought alongside Mexican gangs.
An article in The Washington Post claims, “competing criminal groups appear to be killing children to terrorize the population or prove to rivals that their savagery is boundless, as they fight over local drug markets and billion-dollar trafficking routes to voracious consumers in the United States.”
Government and Guns
Reuters recently wrote that SIG Sauer is seeking approval to sell automatic assault rifles requested by the Mexican Navy and Naval Infantry. SIG wants $5.5 million; Mexico wants “to modernize.” The deal is controversial. Weapons sold to Mexico frequently find their way into the hands of criminals. Mexico’s drug war has largely been carried out with U.S. weapons — imported legally or smuggled.
Congress must approve the transaction because weapons that contain U.S. parts or intellectual property fall under U.S. export control rules.
Are U.S. guns smuggled into Mexico?
Based on ATF testimony, the Government Accounting Office reports 70 percent of guns recovered by Mexican law enforcement officials from 2011 to 2016 were originally purchased from legal U.S. gun dealers. The Mexican government estimates that 200,000 firearms are smuggled into Mexico each year. Between 70 and 90 percent of guns found at crime scenes are traced to the U.S.
A 2020 article in the New York Times complained: “corruption tears at the soul of Mexico.” Corruption exists at the highest levels of government and it “pervades everyday life, with bribes functioning as the grease that keeps the system moving. And in this way, it makes a large part of the country complicit. Bureaucrats get cash tips for issuing birth certificates […] and the police pocket cash for turning a blind eye to motorists running red lights.”
Mexican periodical Reforma notes that security forces armed with government-purchased U.S. weapons are guilty of persistent atrocities. The government’s guns often end up on the black market. In the last two years, 341 long arms and 1,075 pistols from police and military units went “missing.” Experts suspect the real figure is much higher.
“The Mexican government is responsible for the rampant crime and corruption within their own borders,” says Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “Rather than seeking to scapegoat law-abiding American businesses, Mexican authorities must focus their efforts on bringing the cartels to justice.”
Could Mexico Win in Court?
Maybe. The first hurdle is the 2005 U.S. Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). It makes victory in civil lawsuits against arms manufacturers, like the one filed by Mexico, unimaginable. Mexico, however, argues that the law should not apply because of past Supreme Court decisions related to tort law abroad. (Remington offered $33 million to settle the lawsuit brought by families of the 2012 Sandy Hook murders.)
So the Mexican government is suing American companies — notably, not SIG Sauer — and buying from them at the same time. Defendants Colt, Barrett and Glock have all sold weapons to Mexico recently.
Implications for U.S. Gun Owners
The suit could be summarily dismissed … or it could have lasting consequences for U.S. gun makers and those of us who enjoy firearms, carry legally and participate in the shooting sports. In a U.S. court of law and with pressure from an anti-gun administration and congress, anything might happen. We’ll have to wait and see.
You can read the complete 139-page Mexican lawsuit here.
November 24: Gun manufacturers Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock and Ruger sought to have the suit dismissed, filing documents Monday, November 22. Mexico has until January 31 to file a formal response.
February 3: On Monday, January 31, 13 states plus Washington D.C. and two more nations added their support to Mexico’s lawsuit against legal gun manufacturers. Democratic attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon joined together to file an amicus brief opposing the defendant gun companies’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The countries of Antigua and Barbuda and Belize filed separate briefs.
October 3: On Friday, September 30, a Massachusetts federal district judge ruled the U.S. Constitution protects gun sales and closed the case. “Unfortunately for the government of Mexico, all of its claims are either barred by federal law or fail for other reasons. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act unequivocally bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the acts of individuals using guns for their intended purpose. And, while the statute contains several narrow exceptions, none are applicable here,” U.S. District Chief Judge Dennis Saylor wrote. The Mexican Foreign Ministry plans to appeal the decision.
October 17: On October 10, the Mexican government filed a new lawsuit. After the first attempt against the American firearms industry failed, this latest suit was filed in an Arizona federal court. It targets five Arizona gun dealers the Mexican government claims “routinely and systematically” provide guns to criminal organizations through straw purchases.
Mexico’s Department of Foreign Affairs said, “This court action in no way challenges the Constitutional right of U.S. citizens to bear arms, nor the right of stores to sell their products responsibly and lawfully. The lawsuit addresses a cause shared by both countries, whose citizens suffer from illicit firearms practices.” Brady United, an American gun-control group is aiding Mexico with its current challenge.