Tuesday, April 16, 2024

US court: Mexico’s suit against Arizona gun stores can proceed

A federal judge in the United States ruled Monday that Mexico’s lawsuit against five Arizona gun stores for alleged involvement in trafficking firearms from the U.S. can proceed.

The Mexican government filed the lawsuit in October 2022, accusing gun stores in Tucson, Phoenix and Yuma of facilitating the illegal movement of guns into Mexico, where firearms are used to commit tens of thousands of homicides annually.

Front facade of Diamondback Shooting Sports store in Tucson, Arizona
Diamondback Shooting Sports, one of the five retail firearms stores in Arizona near the Mexico-U.S. border that is named in Mexico’s lawsuit in US federal court. (Diamondback Shooting Sports)

Tucson-based U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez rejected arguments that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects the gun stores from Mexico’s lawsuit.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) said that Márquez noted that “there were several red flags indicating to the stores that the firearms they sold would end up in Mexico and be used for unlawful purposes.”

Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona “recognized that Mexico has the right to sue on behalf of itself and its people,” the SRE said.

“Notably, the judge said that Mexico argued successfully that the stores do not enjoy immunity for their negligent business practices,” the statement added.

Márquez said that Mexico has made plausible claims that are exempt from PLCAA protection. However, she dismissed several other claims filed by Mexico, including that the companies violated U.S. racketeering law and created a public nuisance, Reuters reported.

One of the claims that the judge said was exempt from PLCAA protection was that the five Arizona gun stores violated several United States firearm laws and in doing so caused harm to Mexico, where U.S.-sourced weapons are used in most high-impact crimes such as homicides.

A Tucscon federal judge ruled that the five retailers being sued appear to have ignored “red flags” that they were making sales to smugglers.

According to a statement published by the SRE at the time of the filing of the lawsuit, Mexico alleges that the five stores “routinely and systematically participate in the illegal trafficking of arms, including military-style ones, for criminal organizations in Mexico through sales to straw purchasers and sales directed to arms dealers.”

The stores named in the suit are Diamondback Shooting Sports, SNG Tactical and The Hub Target Sports – all in Tucson –  as well as Ammo AZ in Phoenix and Sprague’s Sports in Yuma. The SRE said that the stores “are among the vendors in Arizona whose weapons are recovered with greatest frequency in Mexico.”

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that in the next stages of its case, “evidence will be presented to demonstrate the defendants’ negligent conduct and to seek damages to be determined by the judge.”

“Although the defendants have the right to file an appeal, today’s decision is of great importance for our country. Mexico is convinced that it is legally and morally correct in its lawsuits against illicit arms trafficking, and will continue to defend its interests and those of its citizens by exploring all avenues available to it,” the SRE said.

U.S. gun manufacturers also have argued that the two-decade-old PLCAA protected them from a 2021 lawsuit filed against them by the Mexican government. That $10 billion suit was dismissed by a federal court in Boston in 2022 when Judge F. Dennis Saylor ruled that Mexico’s case couldn’t surmount a provision in the PLCAA that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits over “the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products … by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”

Mexico, however, appealed the decision, and in January, the Boston-based United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that its lawsuit against gun manufacturers including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. could also proceed.

The manufacturers — who are accused of negligent business practices leading to illegal arms trafficking and deaths in Mexico — are appealing that ruling and intend to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the case, the news agency Reuters said.

The fight against illicit arms trafficking is a central focus of security cooperation between Mexico and the United States.

After acknowledging that 70% of firearms used in violent crimes in Mexico come from the United States, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in December that the U.S. would do all it could to prevent the southward flow of firearms.

“That requires investment … to have a more secure border with modern equipment, with technology so that we can detect these weapons before they cross the border,” he said.

Former foreign affairs minister Marcelo Ebrard previously accused the United States of not doing enough to stop the smuggling of weapons into Mexico, and declared in late 2022 that the country was in the grip of a “firearms pandemic.”

With reports from Reuters and Sin Embargo

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