Trials & Litigation

Mexico's suit accusing gun-makers of facilitating gun trafficking isn't barred by immunity shield, 1st Circuit says

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Smith & Wesson handguns are seen for sale in a gun store Sept. 9, 2022, in Houston. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Mexico may proceed with its lawsuit alleging that gun-makers are liable for facilitating the trafficking of guns used by drug cartels.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Boston ruled that Mexico could pursue its claim, despite a U.S. ban on gun-maker liability for unlawful use of their products. Mexico had plausibly alleged that the ban doesn’t apply because the law protects lawful firearms sales but not illegal downstream gun sales allegedly facilitated by the companies’ knowing sales to dealers that provide guns to drug cartels.

Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., an appointee of former President Barack Obama, wrote the Jan. 22 opinion reviving the suit.

“The complaint details a steady and growing stream of illegal gun trafficking from the United States into Mexico, motivated in large part by the demand of the Mexican drug cartels for military-style weapons,” Kayatta wrote. “Mexico alleges that defendants know that their guns are trafficked into Mexico and make deliberate design, marketing and distribution choices to retain and grow that illegal market and the substantial profits that it produces.”

Those allegations are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, Kayatta said.

U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV of the District of Massachusetts had ruled in September 2022 that the liability ban, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, barred Mexico’s suit.

The case is Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands Inc.

Reuters, the New York Times and have coverage.

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