Attorneys general from 13 states and Washington DC this week voiced support for a federal lawsuit filed by the Mexican government that accuses a group of U.S. gunmakers of facilitating arms trafficking to criminals in Mexico, fueling armed violence.
In a brief filed in federal court in Massachusetts, Democratic attorneys general — including those in California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York — opposed the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, saying that a federal law providing legal protection to firearms manufacturers does not apply in this case.
“While the law may provide some protection to gun manufacturers, it is not a license to knowingly let their products land in dangerous hands,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Tuesday. , in a press release.
The group is particularly targeting the Protection of Lawful Arms Trade Act (PLCAA), which shields arms manufacturers from liability if their products are used in a crime.
The defendants – including brands like Smith & Wesson, Colt and Glock – have used the law as an argument in an attempt to have the case thrown out. But the attorneys general say the PLCAA would not, in the words of Bonta’s office, “protect the companies from liability.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in a Tuesday press release, asked the court to recognize that manufacturers, dealers and distributors of firearms can be held liable for how their products are marketed or sold.
“It is unacceptable,” Healey said, “for firearms manufacturers and distributors to knowingly market their products in a way that facilitates the illegal trafficking of weapons into the hands of dangerous individuals.”
CNN has contacted the companies named in the lawsuit for comment, but has not heard back. A representative for Glock previously told CNN it was company policy not to comment on pending litigation, but said it would defend itself “vigorously.”
In a statement, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group, suggested the lawsuit and its targets were misplaced.
“The Mexican government should be working to bring Mexican drug cartels to justice in Mexican courtrooms,” said NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane, “not to file a baseless complaint in a US court to distract from its shameful and corrupt failure to protect its citizens.”
Mexico filed the lawsuit last August, alleging the defendants “design, market, distribute and sell firearms in ways” that arm Mexican drug cartels. The companies, according to the lawsuit, are aware of this but do nothing.
The gunsmiths, as well as a distributor, use “reckless and corrupt arms dealers and unsafe and illegal sales practices that cartels rely on to obtain their weapons”, the lawsuit alleges, and design their products so that be “easily modified to fire automatically and to be easily transferable to the criminal market in Mexico.”
The lawsuit says homicides in Mexico declined between 1999 and 2004, when the United States banned assault weapons, but then increased dramatically as arms production and distribution increased by the defendants after the expiration of the ban.
The lawsuit estimates that up to 597,000 firearms are trafficked into Mexico each year, about 68% of which are manufactured by the defendants. (Bonta’s office cited a 2020 report by the US Government Accountability Office that the ATF found that 70% of firearms recovered in Mexico between 2014 and 2018 came from the United States)
The practices of the defendants, according to Mexico, “aid and abet the murder and maiming of children, judges, journalists, police officers and ordinary citizens” and have “reduced the life expectancy of Mexican citizens and cost the government billions of dollars a year”.
The lawsuit also said that despite a drop in immigration, violence is driving Mexicans to leave and “seek safety” in the United States.
The flow of guns to America’s southern neighbor “is not a natural occurrence or an inevitable consequence of the gun trade or US gun laws,” the lawsuit said. “It is the foreseeable result of the defendants’ deliberate actions and business practices.”
The companies filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November, arguing in part that Mexico did not attribute the violent crimes committed within its borders to the manufacturers themselves, but to a series of third parties.
They also pointed to the PLCAA, saying the law protected them from liability for their actions in the United States.
“Mexico can, of course, impose gun control within its own borders,” the defendants wrote in a memorandum in support of their motion. “But in this case, it’s looking to get out of its borders and punish gun sales that are not only legal but constitutionally protected in the United States.”
THE LAWSUIT IS VALID, AG US SUPPORTS
Mexico’s original complaint argued that the PLCAA did not apply in this case, since the injuries in question occurred in Mexico and not in the United States.
However, in their brief this week, state attorneys general argued that the PLCAA — even if it applied to actions that occurred outside the United States — would not protect companies.
The brief argues that federal laws cannot override a state’s power in areas where it has traditionally had authority, such as consumer protection laws.
Further, while it aims to protect gun manufacturers from liability for the actions of third parties, the PLCAA does not protect them “when their own conduct violates laws that regulate the sale and marketing of guns. on fire,” the memoir reads.
“The Mexico lawsuit alleges that the defendants themselves knowingly violated common law obligations and laws applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms,” the brief states. “PLCAA is therefore not a valid defense against Mexico’s lawsuit.”
Alejandro Celorio, legal adviser to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told CNN en Español that the lawsuit does not attribute the killings or injuries to the arms manufacturers or distributors themselves, but seeks to hold them responsible for ” negligence in their business practices” and a “lack of caution” that violates federal and state laws of the United States.
“The legal immunity that these companies are protected from is not final, it is not complete,” he said. “He has cracks that we will use to launch our legal action.”
Other stakeholders also indicated their support, including the countries of Antigua and Barbuda and Belize. The countries’ attorneys also filed an amicus brief stating that the illegal trafficking of firearms from the United States has repercussions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
A coalition of U.S. gun violence prevention organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence also filed an amicus brief, they said in a joint statement.
“As this case demonstrates, the impact of the irresponsible practices of the firearms industry can have devastating effects on communities, whether in the United States or abroad,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director principal of affirmative litigation at Everytown, in the press release. “No industry should be able to operate with impunity, and we will continue to fight on all fronts to hold reckless industry players accountable for the damage they cause.”
NSSF’s Keane, however, insisted in an interview with CNN en Español that the PLCAA protects industry members even in this case.
“Manufacturers are not legally responsible for the subsequent criminal use of their non-defective firearms lawfully sold by remote third parties over whom those manufacturers have no control,” he said. “And this lawsuit ignores the fact that guns only end up in Mexico through the criminal actions of third parties.”