Every year, half a million guns enter Mexico illegally from the United States, and many of them are military-style weapons that end up in the hands of drug cartels and other violent criminals. , said Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, legal adviser to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Business.
“In addition to prosecuting criminals and seizing weapons that are illegally in Mexico, we have decided to get to the source of the problem. As if it were a toxic river, in addition to cleaning the river, we must go to the source and prevent toxic waste from being dumped into the river,” said Celorio Alcántara, referring to the historic lawsuit. that the Mexican government sued 10 US arms manufacturers in US federal court last summer. This is the first time that a foreign government has sued American gunsmiths.
Celorio Alcántara spoke Thursday during the online panel “Exporting Mayhem: Suing Gun Manufacturers in the US to Stop Violence in Mexico” on the public health crises created by gun violence on both sides of the border and the legal arguments behind it. the action. The panel was sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.
Mexican officials have said that a significant part of the epidemic of violence and crime that has plagued their country in recent decades is due to illicit arms trafficking from the United States. Mexico has restrictive gun laws, with one gun store nationwide and only about 50 permits issued per year. Between 70 and 90 percent of weapons recovered from crime scenes in Mexico can be traced back to US drug cartels, especially, buy these weapons in the United States, mainly in Texas or Arizona, and smuggle them across the border.
The lawsuit accuses the gunsmiths of marketing strategies and business practices to “design, market, distribute and sell firearms in a way that they know routinely arms drug cartels in Mexico.”
Alicia Ely Yamin, senior researcher in global health and rights at the Petrie-Flom Center, drew parallels between the lawsuit filed by the Mexican government and the settlement between Remington and the families of nine people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. In total the shooter, armed with an AR-15 type rifle, killed 20 children and six adults in the attack.
Both lawsuits focus on companies’ marketing strategies that target people who pose a higher threat of gun violence, Yamin said. The settlement with Remington announced Feb. 15 awards the families $73 million and, more importantly, requires the firearms maker to release internal company documents about their marketing strategies.
Mexico’s legal action is new and innovative in its efforts to pierce the veil of impunity that has been constructed in the United States to protect gunmakers, Yamin said. Since 2005, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Lawful Arms Trade Protection Act, or PLCAA, gun manufacturers have enjoyed immunity from lawsuits because it protects them from liability when their weapons are used in deadly crimes.
For Heidi Li Feldman, a law professor and co-director of the joint law and philosophy degree at Georgetown University, the Mexican lawsuit is legally complex, but if successful, it could pave the way for new lawsuits against the manufacturers. of American weapons.
“At the heart of the Mexican complaint is the intuition that if you are introducing your weapons into a criminal market and marketing your products to build a criminal market, it is both intuitively and fundamentally unscrupulous,” Feldman said. “It may be good for your profits, but it’s clearly against social welfare. And that’s the angle that I think will ground one of the most promising arguments that the Mexican government will make.
Gun violence is a public health crisis, said David Hemenway, professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. While lawsuits can be very helpful, Hemenway said, they are only part of a multi-faceted public health approach.
Celorio Alcántara said the lawsuit seeks to hold arms manufacturers accountable for their business practices and marketing strategies that fuel gun violence in his country.
“This is not a lawsuit against the Second Amendment,” Celorio Alcántara said. “The companies we pursue know that their products end up in Mexico. They know their products are hurting people in Mexico and they are doing nothing to change their business practices. We want to empower them. We need our day in court.
The panel was sponsored by the Global Health and Rights Project, a collaboration between the Petrie-Flom Center and Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator, and the Mexico Program of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
The daily gazette
Sign up for daily emails to get the latest news from Harvard.