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13 States Side with the Mexican Government in Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Companies

Convention goers look at weapons at the Smith and Wesson booth

Convention goers look at weapons at the Smith and Wesson booth April 11, 2015 at the 2015 NRA Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thirteen states with Democratic attorneys general have filed a brief in support of the Mexican government’s federal lawsuit seeking to hold major U.S. gun manufacturers liable for cartel violence in Mexico.

Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon joined together to file an amicus brief opposing the defendant gun companies’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The defendants include Smith & Wesson, Barrett, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2021, alleges that not only that guns manufactured by the defendant companies caused injuries, but also that cartels are the companies’ intended target market. Furthermore, argue the plaintiffs, these companies have made no discernible attempts to increase safety.

The defendants argue that protection granted to them under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), shields them from Mexico’s claims. The PLCAA protected gun companies from lawsuits based solely on their having manufactured or sold guns that end up being used to cause harm.

The state amici, however, say that they “have a strong interest in preserving the remedies afforded by state common law and by state statutes,” and that there is longstanding precedent for Mexico’s lawsuit. In their brief, the amici point to statements made by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) when arguing in support of PLCAA.

Urging votes in favor of the statute, noted the amici, Sessions “emphasized that ‘[p]laintiffs can go to court if the gun dealers do not follow the law, if they negligently sell the gun, if they produce a product that is improper or they sell to someone they know should not be sold to or did not follow steps to determine whether the individual was [eligible] to bu[y] a gun.'” The brief continued, pointing out that “Senator Craig struck a similar note” when he said, “this bill is not going to protect them from a lawsuit brought against them for harms resulting from that misconduct.”

In their 26-page brief, the amici argue that Mexico’s current lawsuit is just the type of litigation that Sessions and Craig assured their fellow Senators would remain viable. Per the brief about the plaintiffs’ claims:

They are precisely the sorts of actions that PLCAA’s sponsors sought to preserve. The defendants’ construction of PLCAA—one that would bar these lawsuits—is thus not only inconsistent with the statutory text, but also with PLCAA’s findings and purposes and with congressional intent.

Massachusetts Attorney General Karl Racine tweeted about signing on to the amicus brief, saying “federal law doesn’t shield companies from complying” with reasonable gun laws.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong issued a statement following the filing of the amicus brief saying “PLCAA is not an impenetrable shield against all legal responsibility.” Raising a favorable outcome in the Sandy Hook litigation, Tong said, “Gun manufacturers who deceive consumers and violate state consumer protection laws can and should be held accountable.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel provided the following statement about the lawsuit to Law&Crime Monday:

Like any other companies, gun manufacturers and dealers must be held accountable for the way they market and sell their products, especially when these products are ending up in the hands of dangerous individuals. The court must ensure state and federal laws are being interpreted properly.

Likewise, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said, “Our nation is experiencing increased gun violence, and we must do more to disrupt the flooding of dangerous weapons to protect our communities.”

Vice President and General Counsel of firearms trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation, Lawrence G. Keane, has called Mexico’s lawsuit “a farce.”

“The culprit for the lawlessness ravaging America’s southern neighbor isn’t in the manufacturing facilities in United States,” Keane argued, “It is in the halls of their own government and within the ranks of their own military.”

You can read the full amicus brief here.

Law&Crime reached out for comment to counsel for the defendant gun manufacturers.

This piece was updated from its original version to include additional comment.

[image via Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos