Mexico City, Mexico – As a wave of gun violence, including the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, continues to unfold across the United States, the Mexican government has not missed the opportunity to address the historic trial that he sued a year ago in Massachusetts District Court. against 10 American arms manufacturers and distributors.
Lawsuit, Mexico v. Smith & Wesson et al, seeks damages from corporations for negligence leading to shocking rate of gun homicides and other gun violence in Mexico, which is largely attributable to guns sold in the United States and trafficked across borders. The government estimates the damage at around $10 billion.
A substantive allegation in Mexico’s complaint is that the Lawful Arms Trade Protection Act (PLCAA), which protects US gun companies from prosecution, does not apply in Mexico.
“Essentially, Mexico is attacking PLCCA in its trial, claiming that it does not grant immunity to the defendants [to Smith & Wesson et al]“, León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, a Mexican expert in international human rights law and observer of the trial in Mexico, told Al Jazeera.
Shortly after the Uvalde shooting, Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said it demonstrated “gross negligence on the part” of the arms industry in the United States, as another case in which “a young man [can be] sold an assault weapon at the age of 18.
In his comments, Ebrard linked the Uvalde tragedy to Mexico’s lawsuit, which is currently awaiting a court ruling on a request by gun companies to dismiss it, based on the PLCAA.
At a recent press conference in Mexico, Ebrard also said that just as the United States is issuing travel alerts for Mexico due to violence, Mexico will “create arms trafficking alerts” for trips to the United States. According to national daily El Financiero, the minister said reducing the number of weapons in “both countries” was a joint effort, saying he believed US President Biden favored greater arms control.
To be sure, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a Biden-backed bill to ban assault weapons that is currently awaiting debate in the Senate.
In January of this year, the nations of Belize and Antigua and Barbuda filed supporting briefs with the Massachusetts court in support of the claim against Mexico, as well as the non-governmental organization Latin American and Caribbean Network for Human Security. Their brief claimed that the flow of weapons across the US-Mexico border was also increasing deadly violence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Attorneys general from 14 US states and 26 districts have also filed their support.
US lawmakers are also trying to pressure gunmakers in other ways.
The states of California, Delaware and New York have recently enacted laws allowing litigation against gun manufacturers despite the PLCAA. New Jersey is considering a similar law.
A bill drafted by Federal Congressman Adam Schiff of California was also recently introduced in the House of Representatives. If passed, the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Bill would repeal the PLCAA.
Castellanos-Jankiewicz, a researcher at the Asser Institute in The Hague, notes that the PLCAA “should be repealed as it impedes the right of firearm victims to access courts in accordance with international human rights law.” .
“Fundamentally, Mexico’s lawsuit argues convincingly that the PLCAA is inoperative in certain cross-border situations. To avoid this exposure, the case could lead the firearms industry to adopt litigation-induced safety improvements.
Mexico’s lawsuit is also backed by US-based victims’ groups, including March for Our Lives, the group founded by survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting when a gunman opened fire on a high school there. -down, killing at least 17 people.
The value of the company in danger?
The earnings reports of the two publicly traded companies in the lawsuit, Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Company (Ruger) mention the lawsuit.
Smith & Wesson’s second quarter report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission noted that, along with other litigation the company has faced and continues to face (including victims of the synagogue in California in 2019), they intended to defend themselves “aggressively” against lawsuits in Mexico. “Litigation of this nature is also costly, time-consuming and a distraction from our management’s time and attention,” he added.
For Ruger, while litigation, including claims for punitive damages, “is unlikely to have a material adverse effect on the company’s financial condition”, it “may have a material impact on financial results. of the company for a given period”.
Gun stocks and business risk
Further pressure is being exerted on companies through shareholder activism focused on the business risks of continued gun violence.
Last month, Ruger shareholders approved a proposal submitted by members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Accountability [who have become shareholders of the company in order to influence it on gun safety matters] ask the company to undertake a human rights impact assessment.
Alejandro Celorio Alcántara is the main legal adviser to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, leading the case against the arms companies.
The career diplomat told Al Jazeera that the team preparing the lawsuit counts the increased firepower requirements of Mexican security forces among the damage caused by US weapons in Mexico. Organized crime groups in Mexico have obtained military-grade weapons from US arms companies, which they use to protect themselves and fight their battles.
In this way, the business risk cycle of gun violence also goes back to the arms companies themselves, Celorio noted.
“Company shareholders need to understand…that their weapons are being used illegally by cartels in Mexico,” Celorio said.
The companies say gun violence in Mexico is due to the Mexican government’s inability to control crime, not the practices of arms dealers in the United States.
Accompaniment for trial
Many victims’ groups and groups that campaign against gun violence in Mexico are supporting the lawsuit, with several individual victims testifying in another supporting case filed with the Massachusetts court.
Among them is Adrian LeBarón, whose daughter was one of three women and six children from a Mormon community in northern Mexico who were murdered in a high-profile attack in November 2019.
Mexico has high rates of homicides (currently 28 per 100,000 people), forced internal displacement (379,000 in 2021), enforced disappearances (recently peaked at 100,000 people) and femicides (1,004 cases in 2021, an increase of 2.7% compared to 2020); phenomena regularly attributed to the actions of armed actors in a country which itself has only one weapons store and issues some 500 weapons permits per year.
In addition to cartel battles, homicides, femicides, and forced displacement, guns also regularly play a role in the intimidation and harassment of people who speak out against criminal gun violence in Mexico.
Yesenia Zamudio became an activist when her daughter, Marichuy Jaimes Zamudio, was murdered in 2016. By demanding justice for her daughter and speaking out against violence against women, which often involves guns, Zamudio herself became a target.
Since her daughter’s death, Zamudio has demanded that she be recorded and investigated as a femicide, not an accidental homicide; a crime requiring the investigation and the arrest of the perpetrators. She succeeded in 2020.
Shortly after Zamudio began speaking out publicly, unknown assailants fired into the apartment building where she lived in Mexico City.
Since then, a family member has been seriously injured when an assailant shot him in the back, another was shot in the shoulder and yet another was killed by a bullet to the head.
Zamudio believes the shooting was intended to threaten her to continue seeking justice for her daughter’s murders. She is now registered with the Mexican government’s Human Rights Defenders Protection Mechanism, which offers a version of witness protection.
Zamudio supports his government’s lawsuit against arms companies. She said the prevalence of military-grade firearms available on the streets is of particular concern.
“Everyone in Mexico now has guns and they are putting us civilians at risk.”
Chief Justice F Dennis Saylor – an appointee of George W Bush, the US President who also signed the PLCAA Act – is expected to rule any day on the gun companies’ request to dismiss the case, and may well come out in favor of the companies.
Regardless of the outcome, Castellanos-Jankiewicz said the trial’s high profile has already had an effect.
“Mexico’s pioneering litigation strategy can be replicated, opening new avenues for accountability.”