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Mexico Trying to Hold American Gun Culture Accountable

DORAL, FL – OCTOBER 23: Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump attends a campaigns rally In Florida at the Trump National Doral on October 23, 2015 in Doral, Florida. Trump leads most polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Johnny Louis/FilmMagic)

I have stated this before, but one reason to support open border immigration is that the United States is so deeply responsible for what has happened in the countries that are sending so many migrants out. A huge, huge piece of this is that it is so easy to buy high-powered guns in the U.S. and ship them across the border to kill. The guns used in the Mexican cartel wars are coming from somewhere and that somewhere is mostly the United States. Our horrific national culture of ultra-violent weapons has impacts not only in the U.S. So now the Mexican government is attempting to sue the U.S. over this.

Finally, there is a dent in the shield. Two years ago, the government of Mexico, a country plagued by gun violence—much of which is carried out by weapons trafficked from the United States—filed a lawsuit against seven U.S.-based gun manufacturers, accusing them of using “reckless and corrupt gun dealers and dangerous and illegal sales practices that the cartels rely on to get their guns,” designing weapons that “can be easily modified to fire automatically,” and ignoring guidelines from the U.S. government and courts “to prevent this illegal trade.” A lower court initially dismissed the suit, saying that the P.L.C.A.A. restrictions applied to lawsuits filed by sovereign countries, as well as by American individuals and organizations. But a couple of weeks ago a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, ruled that the suit can move forward. “This is the first case brought by a sovereign nation against the gun industry, and now it’s the first case where a court has upheld the right of a sovereign nation to bring a case,” Jonathan Lowy, the founder of the public-interest group Global Action on Gun Violence, told me.

Lowy, who is sixty-two, is a veteran of the gun-control movement. For many years, he worked for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, named after James Brady, a former White House press secretary who was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. For the past couple of years, Lowy has been working with the Mexican government on its case, which was filed in August, 2021, and dismissed by the district court in September, 2022. Now that the First Circuit has allowed the lawsuit to go forward, Lowy said, the process of discovery will begin. “At this stage of the case we are entitled to evidence from the gun companies, and we can assemble the evidence and marshal our case,” he noted. “That is a very big deal. It was discovery that turned the tide against Big Tobacco.”

The gunmakers seem determined to prevent anything like that from happening. Lawrence Keane, the general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry, told me that the defendants intend to appeal the First Circuit decision to the Supreme Court as early as April. “We think that the appeals court got it wrong and the case was properly dismissed by the district court,” Keane said. “Whether the guns are smuggled into Mexico and misused, or whether they are illegally obtained and used on the streets of Chicago or any other city or state, manufacturers that lawfully sell products to consumers after a background check, if they pass, are not responsible for the subsequent criminal misuse of that product, any more than Ford is responsible for drunk-driving accidents.”

It was that sort of argument, and the gun lobby’s grip on Capitol Hill, which originally drove Lowy to team up with the government of Mexico. About a decade ago, Lowy wrote a report on the export of U.S. gun violence to other countries, including Mexico. After his report came out, he spoke with Mexican officials about how they could respond to the influx of American guns. The possibility of starting litigation inside the United States was discussed, but at that time it didn’t go anywhere. Still, if any foreign nation was going to sue the U.S. gun industry, it was likely to be Mexico, which has stringent domestic gun laws and only one gun dealer. The majority of weapons recovered at Mexican crime scenes had originated in the United States, and for years drug cartels have been using guns manufactured in the U.S. to kill members of the police and armed forces.

After the populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected President, in 2018, his foreign ministry expressed interest in launching a lawsuit in the U.S. Lowy was part of a legal team that included the Texan class-action specialist Steve Shadowen, which helped Mexico file a civil complaint in Boston’s federal court against a number of firearms companies, such as the gunmakers Smith & Wesson, Colt, Beretta, Glock, and Sturm, Ruger, and a gun wholesaler, InterstateArms. The lawsuit asked the court to order the gun industry to change its practices, and, according to reports, the Mexican government requested up to ten billion dollars in damages. The compensation is meant to cover not only the deaths and injuries suffered by Mexican citizens but higher costs for medical care and law enforcement throughout the country, as well as decreased revenues from business activity, as firms have been reluctant to invest in Mexico.

We all know they aren’t going to win this case. There is no way that the courts, as dominated by right-wingers as they are, will do anything that cuts into the gun industry’s power. But this is precisely the kind of international movement that we need on so many problematic issues in the United States. In fact, this is kind of thing I want to see on the exploitation within global supply chains that I have burned through so many computer keys writing about. At the very least, attention such as New Yorker articles at least gets the highly educated, liberal readership of these magazines thinking that America might have just a wee bit of responsibility for what is going on south of the border. Given how utterly ignorant most Americans, even the most well-meaning of them, are about Latin America, well, we have to start somewhere and this is a place to start. So….good. And I hope this gets more attention.

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