U.S. gun manufacturers and wholesalers cannot be held liable for criminal gun trafficking into Mexico.
That’s according to a Massachusetts federal court judge who dismissed the Mexican government’s suit against Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger & Co, Glock, Inc., and others late Friday. In his dismissal order, U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor said the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shielded the companies from liability for the harms alleged by Mexico.
“Unfortunately for the government of Mexico, all of its claims are either barred by federal law or fail for other reasons,” Saylor wrote in his opinion. “The PLCAA unequivocally bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the acts of individuals using guns for their intended purpose. And while the statute contains several narrow exceptions, none are applicable here.”
The dismissal deals a major blow to the ongoing efforts by gun-control advocates to undermine the PLCAA. The statute has long been a target for the groups, who claim it unfairly shields U.S. gun makers from liability for the harm caused by gun violence. Gun-control activists in the U.S. hoped the Mexico suit would serve as a potent vehicle for piercing the statute’s protections. Jonathan Lowy, vice president of the litigation arm of the Brady Campaign, even joined as co-counsel for Mexico’s efforts.
Brady did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade group, celebrated the dismissal.
“We are pleased the court dismissed Mexico’s misguided and baseless lawsuit against members of the firearms industry that sought to blame them for Mexico’s unwillingness and inability to bring Mexican drug cartels to justice in Mexican courtrooms,” Larry Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel, told The Reload. “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.”
A bipartisan coalition in Congress passed the PLCAA in 2005 as a response to cities suing gun companies over criminal acts committed with their products, even when there was no evidence the companies were involved in those crimes. Critics compared the tactic to suing car companies over the actions of drunk drivers.
The statute stipulates those businesses engaged in the lawful making and selling of firearms and ammunition “are not and should not be liable for the harm caused by those who criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products or ammunition products that function as designed and intended.”
Mexico filed its lawsuit against gunmakers Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger & Co, Glock, Barrett, Beretta, Colt, Century Arms, and Boston-based wholesaler Interstate Arms in August of last year. It accused the companies of undermining its strict gun laws by manufacturing, marketing, and selling “military-style assault weapons” in ways they knew would appeal to criminal organizations like drug cartels.
The complaint alleged up to 90 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico were trafficked from the United States, with the suit’s defendants producing more than 68 percent of those guns. The suit accused the gunmakers of failing to implement safety practices to prevent illegal gun trafficking.
The Mexican government sought to force US gun makers to compensate Mexico $10 billion for the costs of its gun violence problem.
UPDATE 9-30-2022 8:49 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comments from the NSSF.