Mexican Government Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers Tests the Limits of Territoriality

Mexican Government Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers Tests the Limits of Territoriality

The government of Mexico recently sued U.S. firearms manufacturers in federal district court in Massachusetts. The 135-page complaint alleges that the defendants bear substantial legal responsibility for a surge in gun deaths in Mexico because U.S.-made weapons account for between 70 and 90 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, whose own laws and practices make it very difficult to obtain firearms. According to the lawsuit, the U.S. companies have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent their weapons from ending up in Mexico, profit from the trafficking of U.S.-made guns to Mexico, and in some respects deliberately target the illegal Mexican market. The lawsuit presents strong moral and policy grounds for relief. But is it legally sound? The answer is not entirely clear. The case raises several important issues about the territorial reach of domestic law. After providing some more context, in this column, I shall focus on a 2005 federal statute , the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which shields U.S. firearms manufacturers from most lawsuits claiming that they are responsible for harms caused by criminals using their weapons. The Lawsuit Mexico’s complaint raises common-law and statutory claims under the laws of Connecticut and Massachusetts, with subject matter jurisdiction based on a federal statute authorizing adjudication of cases between “a foreign state . . . as plaintiff and citizens of a State or of different States,” including corporations headquartered in such U.S. states. Readers unfamiliar with federal court practice might find it […]

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