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Mexico Sues Arizona Gun Dealers In Second Major Legal Battle Against U.S. gun industry

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

Initially Published October 19, 2022 By Ryan Deitsch

Soldiers stand next to ammunition, plastic bags containing cocaine and weapons seized at the village of Guayabal in Veracruz on March 6, 2012. (Photo by Yahir Ceballos)

On Monday, October 10th the Mexican Government filed a lawsuit alleging five gun dealers based in Arizona of being a responsible party regarding the trafficking of illegal firearms into Mexico. These firearms are often exchanged along with illicit drugs by criminal and cartel organizations; the flow of firearms from the U.S to Mexico has become colloquially known as the Iron River. Mexico has strict gun control in the country but over the border, many states in the U.S. have lax regulation of firearms, allowing for straw purchases and untraceable sales with little to no required background checks. For some perspective of scale, in 2019 alone, Mexico claims over 17,000 homicides involving U.S. made firearms occurred with an average of 200,000 U.S. guns being trafficked into Mexico annually. Though success seems very unlikely, the Mexican government hopes this lawsuit can help apply pressure to private U.S. gun dealers who play a role in Mexican gun violence.

This is the second major lawsuit filed by Mexico in an attempt to hold suppliers accountable for Mexican gun violence carried out with U.S. made firearms as well as seek some financial damages. The first lawsuit was filed in August of 2021 and sought $10 billion in damages from U.S. gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson. That case was dismissed last month; the judge said Mexico’s claims do not overcome the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 (PLCAA), which explicitly protects gun manufacturers and dealers from being held liable in court over illegal usage of their firearms. Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard hopes for more promising results going after gun dealers as opposed to manufacturers; however, both groups are protected under PLCAA, which indicates likelihood of another dismissal.

While Mexico claims the gun dealers (Sprague’s Sports, SNG Tactical, Diamondback Shooting Sports, Lone Prairie D/B/A Hub Target Sports and Ammo AZ respectively) were chosen only after ample evidence suggested a multitude of Mexican gun crimes were committed with arms sourced back to those stores, this case is far from open and shut. Mexico will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt in court that the gun shop owners knowingly engaged in activities which led to illegal firearm trafficking. Although Mexico has proven some traceability, they must prove these gun dealers actually aided and abetted the cartels in acquiring their guns with the expressed understanding that crimes were being perpetrated. Most gun shops mentioned in the suit have not responded yet to comment, except for Ammo AZ owner Veerachart Murphy who has claimed he will not only fight Mexico’s accusations but also file a defamation suit against the country for harming his business’ reputation.

While it is undeniable that U.S. guns have been used by Mexican cartels to conduct illegal and violent activities, fault does not lie solely with the firearm suppliers themselves. Outside the direct criminal perpetrators, some fault lies in the U.S. federal and state governments for failing to prevent cartel members or their supporters from attaining firearms in the first place. The Center for American Progress has argued in favor of universal background checks for all gun sales and restrictions on bulk purchases, regulations opposed by pro-gun lobby group the National Rifle Association, to reduce the potential of arming cartel groups. Another group at fault are the Mexican and U.S. security officials regarding the lack of efficient and consistent vehicle searches at the U.S.-Mexico Border, which sees an average of 200,000 cars or half a million people cross legal ports daily. Increasing vehicle searches would reduce ease of firearm trafficking but would come at the cost of slowing traffic flow along the busiest land border in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, it seems the Mexican government could also be fueling the gun trafficking issue themselves. Vice News recently reported on leaked emails from the Mexican government which indicate weapons deals and information exchanges may have occurred between the Mexican military and the cartels. It is interesting to note that that story began unfolding prior to the Mexican government’s second lawsuit.

Given the aforementioned legal obstacles Mexico faces regarding this case, it is difficult to see these moves as directly beneficial towards reducing gun crime in Mexico. While last year’s lawsuit had been supported by 13 U.S. attorneys general and was lauded as unprecedented, it was dismissed for the simple notion that U.S. federal law shields gun manufacturers and dealers from being held legally responsible for illegal usage of their products. This new case, like the previous one, does not seem to have a winning strategy as the key factor is proving the collaboration between the gun dealers and the cartels which smuggled the arms they purchased. While arms have been traced to the dealers Mexico filed suit against, they must go a step beyond tracing towards proving intent. As gun violence remains an ongoing problem in Mexico, the government is not solely relying on legal cases to address the influx of U.S. firearms. Just last week the U.S. & Mexico engaged in a high-level security dialogue, which addressed firearm trafficking as a major issue where both nations could collaborate more closely to reduce. Mexico may not ultimately win in court, but filing these cases has some value in further highlighting the domestic and foreign dangers posed by lax firearm regulation in the U.S. outside these high level talks. Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard stated recently that the lawsuits have “received worldwide recognition and has been considered a turning point in the discussion around the gun industry’s responsibility for the violence experience in Mexico and the region.

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