Not content with seeing one hail-mary lawsuit tossed in court, the government of Mexico is back just weeks later with another case looking to pin liability for criminal gun trafficking on U.S. businesses.
The new suit, filed Monday, takes aim at five gun dealers in Arizona with storefronts near the border. The complaint alleges that the five dealers “systematically participate in trafficking military-style weapons and ammunition to drug cartels in Mexico by supplying gun traffickers.”
“Defendants choose to sell guns using reckless and unlawful practices, despite the foreseeability – indeed, virtual certainty – that they are thereby helping cause deadly cartel violence across the border,” it states. “Defendants engage in these reckless and unlawful actions because it makes them money. This lawsuit intends to hold them accountable, and make them stop.”
These “reckless and unlawful practices,” the suit alleges, consist of the named dealers selling multiple guns to the same person over a “short” period of time. The complaint does not suggest that the defendants sold guns to persons without a background check or any other omission indicating the dealer should have known a sale was illegal.
The suit also attacks the dealers for selling “military-style weapons” (i.e., AR-15s and AK-47s) because they supposedly know that such weapons are “the cartels’ weapons of choice.” Again, the suit does not specify how selling such weapons, which are perfectly legal in Arizona, violates the law. It merely attempts to blame the dealers for guns that eventually ended up in criminal hands in Mexico after ostensibly legal sales in the U.S.
In a further stretch, the Mexican government alleges that the five gun dealers have violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Mexico claims that individuals who have been caught making straw gun purchases for cartel members at each defendant’s business and the dealers constitute a criminal “enterprise” engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activity” sufficient to sue under the RICO Act.
With such tenuous claims, a federal court will likely dismiss this suit, much like Mexico’s previous suit against some of the country’s largest gun manufacturers.
A federal judge tossed that suit for conflicting with the Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a liability shield for gun companies against suits over the criminal acts of third parties. And while the previous case was concerned with gun manufacturers, the PLCAA applies equally to gun sellers. It’s hard to see how the PLCAA would not preclude Mexico’s suit once again unless Mexico’s lawyers prove that each gun dealer knew they were selling guns to straw buyers. That’s something they offered no direct evidence for in their complaint. And, presumably, pushing for criminal charges rather than filing a civil suit would be a more logical approach if they had that evidence.
With the odds of success so low, one has to wonder what Mexico’s end game is here.
It’s possible the goal is to publicize a convenient foreign scapegoat as the source of its ongoing criminal violence problems to deflect from its seeming inability (or unwillingness) to clamp down on crime itself. That’s certainly the view of the U.S. firearms industry.
“The crime that is devastating the people of Mexico is not the fault of members of the firearm industry, that under U.S. law, can only sell their lawful products to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights after passing a background check,” Larry Keane, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation told The Reload after the country’s first suit was dismissed.
Keane rejected any attempt to make licensed gun dealers and manufacturers in America responsible “for Mexico’s unwillingness and inability to bring Mexican drug cartels to justice in Mexican courtrooms.”
Mexico’s populist left-wing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office in 2018 on an “Abrazos, no balazos,”–hugs, not bullets–approach to cartel relations. Since then, cartel violence has continued to run rampant. Official documents recently leaked by an online hacker group have also uncovered that the Mexican military has been selling “hand grenades and tactical equipment” to drug cartels during Obrador’s tenure.
Attempting to blame those failures on alleged shady dealings among members of the U.S. gun industry could be a way to demagogue the issue to an understandably exasperated domestic population.
But the strategy carries serious risks. Continuing to file borderline frivolous lawsuits against U.S. businesses risks alienating a potentially sizeable portion of the American public.
President Joe Biden, who has attacked the PLCAA on several occasions, may not be bothered by the tactic. But future presidents, border-state governors, and congressmen could see fit to retaliate against what they see as a foreign government trying to interfere with American gun rights.