This recap should not be quoted directly and does not fully describe the nuances of comments made. Please listen to video for direct quotations. The Forum thanks Lauren Speiser for the notes and initial draft of this recap. Panelists are not responsible for the summaries provided here. This event was hosted by the Network to Prevent Gun Violence in the Americas, the Forum on the Arms Trade, the Giffords Law Center, and Global Exchange
- Ioan Grillo (website) - journalist and author, including of Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels -- recent Foreign Policy argument "Why Mexico Is Right to Sue U.S. Gun Companies," and NBC news interview
- Steve Shadowen (website) - Founding Partner, Hilliard & Shadowen LLP -- legal complaint (link)
- Kristen Rand (website) - slides (pdf), Violence Policy resources on gun industry regulation (link)
- John Lindsay Poland (website) - Coordinator, Project to Stop US Arms to Mexico -- proposed legal sale discussed (link), Stop US Arms to Mexico press release "Mexico vs. Gun Companies",
Welcome and Opening Remarks: John Lindsay-Poland described Mexican gun violence as an “unprecedented and growing humanitarian crisis.” (link) He then spoke about the Mexican government’s unprecedented lawsuit (filed August 4th) against 11 US gun manufacturers and distributors, who allege that those companies are responsible for much of the violence occurring in Mexico. Lindsay-Poland briefly introduced the panelists and provided descriptions of their recent work.
Panel: Each panelist gave an overview of their unique expertise regarding the legalities and challenges in current U.S.-Mexico gun relations.
- Ioan Grillo (link) spoke of gun violence in Mexico since the early 2000s as growing “from... crime story... to what seemed like an armed conflict.” Grillo explained that gun violence has a massive impact in Mexico, describing the intensity of the violence. Grillo used anecdotal evidence of how a now-imprisoned gun trafficker would drive to Dallas gun shows and buy 12 AR-15 rifles with no identification. Grillo urged for change, saying that buying guns is not a question of challenging 2nd Amendment rights. His suggested recommendations include universal background checks in the U.S., and regulations targeting ghost guns and straw buyers. Grillo finds the lawsuit to be a powerful move by the Mexican government.
- Steve Shadowen (link) speaking on his own behalf, briefly began by indicating that there is little controversy with “respect to the facts.” The lawsuit alleges that the gun manufacturers’ policies are insufficient in preventing U.S. guns from entering Mexico in large numbers, thus materially contributing to the damage suffered in Mexico. On the legal theory, Shadowen explained the nuance of tort law, which is the law governing negligence and recovery of damage for negligence, which secures the balance between the economic interests of the gun manufacturers and those who are harmed with those products. Shadowen expressed that tort law as applicable in Mexican jurisdiction can be applied to U.S. gun manufacturers because they are knowingly selling products that cause harm to the people and economy of Mexico. Shadowen explains that, in international law, this is not a controversial principle. Shadowen briefly outlined the nuance of Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), explaining that the Mexican government intends to prove in this case that the PLCAA does not apply when the injury occurs outside the US.
- Kristen Rand (link) presented on the marketing strategies of U.S. gun manufacturers, specifically addressing the militaristic imagery and language used in their advertisements. Rand used examples of advertisement from a variety of manufacturers and weapons to support her argument that manufacturers explicitly target Mexican and U.S. buyers looking to build what are in essence their own armies (slides). Rand noted the challenges of firearms and ammunition being the only consumer products that are exempt from federal health and safety regulations, and that PLCAA bars some types of civil liability.
- Moderator Lindsay-Poland (link) spoke briefly about U.S. government-licensed legal exports to Mexico and the lack of transparency surrounding the final destination of U.S.-made guns, including those to be sold to the Mexican Navy under a new sale proposed in July (link), which has been accused of torturing detainees and committing other forms of inhumane treatment.
- Grillo (link) explained how the link to guns and violence in Mexico had fallen off the table for about a decade after Fast and Furious and that the lawsuit is a “solid strategy,” noting that in the lawsuit he sees two “big deals”:
- First, he believes the judicial process has led in the past to big changes through law where politics has failed, drawing parallels to tobacco and pharma lawsuits.
- Second, the lawsuit has put the issue in the news. Grillo believes there are concrete changes that can be made.
- Shadowen (link) dove further into the legalities of the Mexican lawsuit, comparing it to actions in the late 1990s and early 2000s by local governments related to gun violence, as well as the opioid litigation in the U.S. today, with hopes that Mexico can prove a causal chain similar to those used in opioid lawsuits. His main point was, when one knowingly sends their products to another jurisdiction that causes harm in a systematic way, they are responsible. He also briefly discussed the capabilities, and in a broad way, what manufacturers could do to avoid the harm caused. The lawsuit alleges that it is a relatively small number of gun traffickers that are responsible for the majority of these guns sales to Mexico. It’s the absence of U.S. tort law being applied that has allowed this situation to develop.
- Rand (link) noted that the strategy of marketing guns with militarized images is especially relevant to Mexico and the Caribbean, with U.S. manufacturers knowing what's going on and being culpable. Lindsay-Poland added that the weapons are used in essence to build armies as a way to contest territory, gaining legal and illegal control over economic activities.
- Lindsay-Poland spoke (link) on legal exports, including why Sig Sauer may not be in the lawsuit, as well as possible needed legislative and policy changes. He highlighted the need for end-use controls, also recommending the return of all firearms export oversight from the Commerce Department’s Commerce Control List to the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List.
- Rand (link) suggests activists get involved with local and national groups, and recommends that the U.S. pass a universal background check. She also emphasizes the need for further regulations on ghost guns and pistol braces.
- Grillo (link) suggests strengthening measures on private sellers, straw buyers, theft, and ghost guns. He says that they must all be confronted or as one is addressed another will become more prevalent. Grillo similarly recommends universal background checks, passing a federal firearm trafficking law, increasing recommended sentences, extended background checks, and further legislation. He also suggested joint actions by other Central and South American governments with Mexico would be interesting to explore.
- Lindsay-Poland (link) noted that checks on legal firearms exports often occur after export, not before license, that a very small percentage are checked, and that those checked are not often held accountable for human rights abuses. He further recommends identifying end users and committing to controls for excluding end users implicated in human rights abuses. He also said that key knowledge gaps include the circumstances around where and how firearms were distributed and recovered.
- Shadowen (link) discussed possible paths of the suit and predicts it could last 3-4 years, or even longer.
- Rand (link) spoke about her excitement about the new lawsuit, and the need for gun industry accountability.
- Grillo (link) emphasized that gun violence is not normal -- it's not a natural force -- and that simply saying other countries might provide weapons if the U.S. didn't is not credible nor a reason for inaction.
- Shadowen (link) spoke about the effect of violence on families and his frustration about the acceptance of such unbelievable harm. “We will do everything we can within the confines of a lawsuit..." to create change.
- Lindsay-Poland (link) commented how the lawsuit was important to helping everyone see that lives of Mexican individuals are as important as all lives, including those in the U.S.
- The Daily (podcast) from the New York Times, "Why Mexico is Suing U.S. Gunmakers," August 24, 2021.
- William S. Dodge and Ingrid Wuerth, "Mexico v. Smith & Wesson: Does US Immunity for Gun Manufacturers Apply Extraterritorially?" Just Security, August 19, 2021.
- Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, legal advisor to Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Washington Post op-ed, August 14, 2021
- Center for American Progress: "Frequently Asked Questions About Gun Industry Immunity"
- Esther Sanchez-Gomez, litigation attorney at Giffords Law Center, "Mexico, drowning in American guns, is suing gun manufacturers," Daily Journal, August 11, 2021
- Ghost guns
- Research on exports to Mexico
- "Invisible Weapons, Indelible Pain: The Urgent Necessity for Transparency in the U.S. and Mexican Gun Trade," Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, Stop US Arms to Mexico,Center for Ecumenical Studies., July 2021
- "Deadly Trade: How European and Israeli Arms Exports are Accelerating Violence in Mexico," Global Exchange (US), Vredesactie (Belgium), OPAL (Italy), Agir pour la Paix (Belgium), American Friends Service Committee (Israel), Ohne Rüstung Leben (Germany), NESEHNUTÍ (Czech Republic), Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, and the Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos (Mexico), see p. 25 for more on Sig Sauer, December 2020
- "Fact Sheet on Sig Sauer Arms Exports to Mexico," Stop US Arms to Mexico, last updated 2018
- U.S. export licensing of assault weapons - see Forum on the Arms Trade resource page on USML changes