Federal Appeals Court Allows Mexico to Sue US Gun Manufacturers Over Cartel Violence

A recent decision by a federal appeals court has opened the door for Mexico to proceed with a lawsuit against several US gun manufacturers and a distributor, challenging a law that typically shields such companies from liability. Filed in August 2021, the lawsuit alleges that brands including Smith & Wesson, Colt, and Glock contribute to the rise in gun violence within Mexico by designing, marketing, distributing, and selling guns in ways that arm Mexican drug cartels, despite stringent regulations.

The initial complaint was dismissed by a US district court in September 2022, citing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). However, on Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned this ruling, stating that Mexico's claims are "statutorily exempt" from the PLCAA, allowing the case to proceed.

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The three-judge panel in Boston found that "Mexico's complaint plausibly alleges a type of claim that is statutorily exempt from the PLCAA's general prohibition." The ruling emphasized that the lower court had erred in declaring the claims barred by the PLCAA, and the case has been remanded for further proceedings.

In response to the ruling, the Mexican government issued a statement on January 22, 2024, welcoming the decision. The case will now return to a lower court, where Mexico intends to present evidence demonstrating the defendants' negligence and seek damages.
The defendants, which include prominent firearm manufacturers such as Glock, Smith & Wesson, and Colt, have not yet commented on the ruling. Glock previously stated that it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation but expressed its commitment to defending itself vigorously.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms industry trade group, criticized the lawsuit, asserting that the Mexican government should focus on addressing its internal issues rather than filing a "baseless" lawsuit in the US. NSSF Senior Vice President Lawrence G. Keane emphasized that Mexico should concentrate on bringing the Mexican drug cartels to justice within its own legal system.

Mexico claims that the lawsuit is the first brought by a foreign government against members of the US gun industry. The country contends that the defendants are aware that their practices contribute to arming cartels but take no action to prevent it. Mexico alleges that the weapons are deliberately designed and marketed to be attractive to cartels, with the defendants maintaining a distribution system that facilitates illegal trafficking.

As the legal proceedings advance, the case is poised to bring attention to the responsibilities of US gun manufacturers in relation to the impact of their products on international violence and organized crime.