In its decision, a U.S. appeals court found that the Mexican government “plausibly [alleged]” that its claim was not subject to federal statutes shielding firearm manufacturers from crime- and violence-related liability.
A federal appeals court has ruled that Mexico may resume a $10 billion lawsuit seeking to hold American firearm manufacturers liable for cartel-related gun violence.
According to The New York Times, the decision is likely to be appealed. However, it still represents a significant step back for the defendant companies, which had persuaded a lower court to dismiss the claim nearly two years ago.
The manufacturers named as defendants in the complaint include Smith & Wesson, Glock, Beretta, Barrett, Sturm, and Ruger.
As LegalReader.com has reported before, the Mexican government claims that tens of thousands of U.S.-made guns are smuggled across its border each year. The result of the defendants’ alleged negligence, attorneys say, is that powerful criminal organizations are afforded near-unfettered access to an arsenal of modern firearms—firearms that are used against rival gangs, and which are often employed in conflict with local police agencies and federal military forces.
However, Mexico has strict laws on gun ownership, with only a single store in its capital authorized to sell firearms. In its lawsuit, the Mexican government suggests that many of the firearms fueling its long-running drug war are legally obtained in the United States before being trafficked over the border.
In 2022, a U.S. federal court dismissed the case, finding that firearm manufacturers were shielded from liability under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA. Under most circumstances, the PLCAA shields gunmakers from claims “resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse” of their products.
In its appeal, Mexico argued that the PLCAA only applies to injuries that occur in the United States. And, on Monday, an appeals court tentatively accepted the Mexican government’s premise, saying that the complaint “plausibly alleges a type of claim that is statutorily exempt” from the PLCAA.
“Not only did the Court recognize the right of another country to sue U.S. gun companies, it also pierced the unfair legal shield that gun companies have been hiding behind since 2005,” said Global Action on Gun Violence president Jon Lowy, who is serving as the Mexican government’s co-counsel.
The firearm industry, though, has already criticized the decision, saying that Mexico should prioritize its own problems with corruption, crime, and violence.
“We respectfully and profoundly disagree with today’s decision and are reviewing our legal options,” said Larry Keane, senior vice-president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“Mexico should spend its time enforcing its own laws [and] bring Mexican criminals to justice in Mexican courtrooms, instead of scapegoating the firearm industry for their unwillingness to protect Mexican citizens,” Keane wrote on X.