Gun control activists squared off against attorneys for the firearms industry in federal court on Tuesday, as gunmakers argued that U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor should throw out a lawsuit filed by the government of Mexico seeking to hold more than a dozen American manufacturers responsible for cartel violence south of the border.
The Mexican government is being aided in their suit by several members of the gun control lobby, including Brady’s Jonathan Lowy, who claimed that gun makers “choose to be willfully blind to the facts” and could stop cartels from illegally obtaining firearms if they wanted.
Judge Saylor, who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush in 2003, appeared skeptical of Lowy’s arguments and wondered what would stop other nations from suing if he rules that Mexico’s lawsuit isn’t prohibited under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
He asked why if Mexico could sue the gun makers other countries could not too, such as Italy over mafia killings, Israel over attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas, or even Russia over the deaths of its soldiers in Ukraine if the companies’ guns were used.
“If Ukrainians are using United States manufactured military weapons or Smith & Wesson revolvers for that matter to defend themselves, can the government of Russia come in and say you have caused us harm?” he asked. “I mean, why not, if your theory is right?”
Steven Shadowen, another lawyer for Mexico, said other foreign counties could sue too if they met the requirements, though he said U.S. courts could refuse to hear a case if it presented a political question.
But Andrew Lelling, a lawyer for Smith & Wesson, said it would be “absurd” to conclude the federal law only bars lawsuits over injuries in the United States and not Mexico’s allegations over the trafficking of guns to Mexican criminals.
He said it was too much of a reach for Mexico to sue the companies over gun sales that were legal in the United States to wholesalers who in turn sold them to retailers before criminals smuggled them.
“They would have to argue that Congress intended for this robust statute to apply if an independent criminal actor shot somebody in San Diego, but not if he slips over the border and shoots somebody in Tijuana,” Lelling said.
And given the fact that at least some of the drug cartels’ arms were originally purchased by the Mexican government for military and law enforcement, I can’t help but wonder how U.S. manufacturers are supposed to prevent guns from ending up in the hands of cartels if the Mexican government can’t even keep track of its own supply of arms purchased from American gun makers.
It’ll likely be a few weeks before we learn whether Judge Saylor will allow Mexico’s lawsuit to proceed, but I would be surprised if the case wasn’t thrown out as a violation of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Mexico’s cartel violence is real, but it’s not the fault of the U.S. firearms industry. Heck, there was a report this week that several cartels are now trading arms for Colombian cocaine, and many of the weapons recovered aren’t things you’ll find at your local gun shop.
In mid-December last year, Colombia’s army conducted an operation against FARC dissidents in southwestern Narino province, a major coca-producing region. The military said it captured 16 people and seized a cache of weapons, including 24 U.S.-made M16 assault rifles and AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
A similar haul was found in a different FARC dissident camp in the southern jungle province of Caqueta in 2019, according to the army: a M60 machine gun, an AR-15 rifle with an added scope for use by a sniper, and a dozen assault rifles, including M4s and M16s.
Authorities said they believe such guns are supplied by Mexico’s Sinaloa, Zeta and Jalisco New Generation cartels, all of which have emissaries on Colombian soil.
And all of which apparently are able to get their hands on military-grade weaponry originally meant for Mexico’s military and police, which completely undercuts Mexico’s assertion that, were it not for U.S. gun sales, the country’s cartels would be unarmed and harmless. Here’s hoping Judge Saylor does the right thing and tosses Mexico’s lawsuit, and that the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally drops its absurd policy of “hugs, not bullets” when it comes to combatting the cartels, their violence, and their steady supply of narcotics.