México’s Bold Lawsuit Against US Gunmakers
Last August, México filed a $10-billion lawsuit against US gunmakers for facilitating gun imports into México, the first-ever such sovereign government suit against gunmaker corporations.
A wide array of groups are supporting México’s suit, and the international human rights group Global Exchange recently hosted a webinar that brought together some of these organizations. David Pucino, a senior attorney with the Giffords Center to Prevent Gun Violence, moderated the session. His group’s founder, former US member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords, was shot pointblank in the head at a 2011 political event.
David Pucino, Giffords Center: This Mexican lawsuit is forging a new legal approach. The companies sued, México charges, have made unjustifiable sales, particularly of military-grade weapons. One example: Barrett makes a 50-caliber sniper gun — sold in México — that can shoot down a helicopter from a mile away. Other firms named in the suit range from Smith & Wesson and Sturm to Colt and Glock. Maria Isabel, you lost a son to gun-fueled violence.
Maria Isabel Cruz Bernal: In 2017, men entered my home in Sinaloa and took away my son. I never saw him again. I belong to an organization, Sabuesos Guerreras AC, “Warrior Sleuths,” 150 mothers who’ve been searching for the remains of our sons in Sinaloa. We see ourselves as just one part of a larger movement: over 60 organizations of the relatives of the disappeared, all grieving for lost sons, all searching for evidence and for justice.
Maria Pia, you direct the Association for Public Policies in Argentina. Your nation is also feeling the effects of the gun trade?
Maria Pia Devoto: The gun trade has had a huge impact on all of Latin America. The gangs now operate transnationally, and arms made by US gun companies account for 30 percent of our region’s intentional homicides. I’ve worked to stop the arms trade for years. The Mexican lawsuit has given us an opportunity to take a concrete action — filing an amicus brief — and both the US and Mexican embassies have helped us by facilitating relationships with researchers and pro bono lawyers.
Alla, your Everytown for Gun Safety is also supporting México’s lawsuit. As the group’s litigation director, you know the costs of the gun trade all too well.
Alla Lefkowitz: The Mexican lawsuit rests on the contention that US gun manufacturers have been legally “negligent” in their sales practices, knowingly allowing guns to fall into the hands of Mexican cartels. The suit also uses “public nuisance” laws, statutes that ban “unreasonable interference in the public’s normal life.”
Besides the human toll, the gun trade exacts financial costs as well. Everytown has calculated that our federal, state, and local governments are spending a combined average of $34.8 million each day to deal with the aftermath of gun violence: victim services, health care, criminal justice, police and ambulance, preparedness training for schools, lost wages, and so much more.
The total annual bill for taxpayers, survivors, families, employers, and communities comes to $280 billion. We need to also see this as a social cost: the loss of the potential to invest in public services that benefit all Americans. The economic costs for México have not yet been calculated.
In 2005, the US gun lobby pushed into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, legislation that specifically shields firearms manufacturers from liability when crimes take place with their products. The gun industry is citing this law to demand that México’s lawsuit be dismissed. Will the industry get its way?
Maria Pia: That 2005 statute applies in the US, but this case is testing whether the Act applies to harm done in another country.
Alla: This past February, the families of Sandy Hook shooting victims won a historic $73 million settlement against Remington, the maker of the gun that killed 20 little children. This case proved that other laws can be used as effective legal arguments, that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act doesn’t give gunmakers a foolproof shield. We’re hopeful!
Source: Mexico Solidarity Bulletin, No. 78, April 17, 2002