By Zabric Kline.
On October 10, 2022, the Mexican government filed a lawsuit against multiple Arizona gun retailers. This is one of many actions, both in and outside of the courtroom, that the Mexican government is undertaking in order to stop the flow of weapons into their country. The Mexican government claims that these gun retailers are systematically participating in the trafficking of guns and ammunition to Mexican cartels. The Mexican government predicates this claim on a pattern of weapons recovered at crime scenes to be traceable to the gun distributors being sued.
The Mexican Government Has Made Similar Claims in the Past
This is not the first time that the Mexican government has brought claims against U.S. businesses involved in the firearm industry. On August 4, 2021, the Mexican government brought a similar lawsuit against seven high-profile gun manufacturers, including Glock and Smith & Wesson. In that case, the Mexican government claimed that these gun manufacturers knowingly and unlawfully participated in the trafficking of guns to Mexico. It was claimed that the gun manufacturers took a “head-in-the-sand” approach when it came to distributing their products. This head-in-the-sand approach, according to the Mexican government, enabled Mexican criminals to commit crimes, requiring the Mexican government to spend more on law enforcement, and resulted in a decline of economic activity in Mexico.
Despite their allegations, the lawsuit was dismissed. The judge found that U.S. law “bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the acts of individuals using guns for their intended purpose.” The law in question was the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) which, in the judge’s view, generally, prohibits governmental entities, domestic or foreign, from suing gun manufacturers or sellers in United States courts.
Not the End of the Road
Despite this previous outcome, the Mexican government continues to attempt to hold U.S. businesses involved in the firearm industry responsible for their alleged involvement in Mexican crime. This time, the Mexican government is targeting Arizona gun retailers that are engaging in “reckless and unlawful business practices.” These practices, according to the Mexican government, have resulted in these guns winding up in the hands of the Mexican cartels who are using the guns to commit crimes in Mexico.
The Arizona gun dealers have countered these allegations by claiming that the lawsuit is without merit, and should be dismissed. According to the gun dealers, they should not be held liable for an unspecified series of events in which criminals allegedly acquire, sell, and smuggle guns into Mexico. These gun dealers also argue that even if they had sold guns to Mexican citizens, U.S. law does not require them to protect foreign governments from harm.
What Happens Next?
The question then becomes: what makes this lawsuit any different than the first? If the Mexican government were to bring an identical claim in this second lawsuit, it could be expected that they would experience an identical result. In their prior lawsuit, the Mexican government was not able to overcome the broad protections afforded to gun retailers under the PLCAA.
However, according to the Mexican government, a key difference in this second lawsuit is that they are arguing a violation of U.S. laws. As an example, the Mexican government specifically points to nearly 100 illegal arms sales that took place in Arizona. Of these sales, three of them resulted in the purchased guns being seized at the border. These three seizures, according to the Mexican government, share important commonalities: (1) they all involved U.S. citizens, and (2) the seized materials were purchased at the same Arizona gun retailer.
Another difference that might come to bear is that the Mexican government is now suing parties that might be more accurately described as “sellers,” as opposed to “manufacturers”. This could be notable because the PLCAA broadly provides those in the firearm business general immunity from lawsuits. However, there exists an exception to this general immunity when a lawsuit is brought against a seller, rather than a manufacturer. At this point it is unclear if this distinction will actually yield any positive results for the Mexican government in its pending lawsuit. Despite these differences, the Arizona gun distributors still maintain that they are protected under the PLCAA.
As it stands today, Mexico, when compared to the United States, has very restrictive gun laws. Despite these restrictions, a large number of guns make their way into Mexico every year and are being used to perpetrate crimes. Most of these guns are determined to have originated in the United States.
These lawsuits represent one of the many efforts that the Mexican government is undertaking to reduce crime within their borders. However, when it comes to the Mexican government attempting to hold U.S. businesses accountable, it is unclear if there will be any recourse in the U.S. courtroom.
By Zabric Kline
J.D. Candidate, 2024
Zabric Kline is a 2L Staff Writer for the Arizona State Law Journal. He received his B.S. in Accounting from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. Zabric enjoys the Arizona heat and has a severe aversion towards any climate below 70 degrees. That is why he plans to build his life in Arizona, currently pursuing a career in litigation. In his free time, Zabric enjoys golf, pickleball, weightlifting, prayer, and time with friends and family.