Exclusive: Mexico Is Prepared to Take US Gun Case to Supreme Court

In an exclusive interview with VICE News, Mexico’s lead attorney, Alejandro Celorio, said they’re not done trying to sue U.S. gun manufacturers yet.
 .50 caliber rifles and anti-aircraft machines guns seized from criminal groups or handed over by civilians, pictured at a military base in Mexico City, on August 1, 2017. Photo: BERNARDO MONTOYA/AFP via Getty Images

MEXICO CITY—Last year, the government of Mexico made history by filing an unprecedented $10 billion lawsuit in the United States against eight companies accused of making and selling weapons favored by drug cartels. The intent, according to the Mexican government’s chief lawyer on the case, is to force the companies to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns.


But Mexico’s plan hit a major stumbling block last week when a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the U.S. companies have immunity under a law that shields manufacturers from liability when their guns are used illegally by criminals.

“Unfortunately for the government of Mexico, all of its claims are either barred by federal law or fail for other reasons,” Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor wrote in a 44-page decision handed down on Friday, adding that the law, “unequivocally bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the acts of individuals using guns for their intended purpose.”

The Mexican government has already vowed to appeal the decision, and in an exclusive interview on Monday with VICE News, Mexico’s lead attorney, Alejandro Celorio, said they are prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“Nowhere does it say: 'This law will protect the industry for the harms done in any other place of the world,’” Celorio said. “According to the U.S. courts, there is everything we need to make the argument that this law does not apply outside of the U.S.—and for that reason the companies are not protected when the harm they are causing is occurring on Mexican territory.”


Mexico’s lawsuit says 70 to 90 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in the country are illegally trafficked from the United States, and the eight companies sued in the case are allegedly responsible for producing more than two-thirds of those weapons. Mexico has just one gun store in the entire nation, and it issues fewer than 50 civilian ownership permits per year.

On the Front Line of Mexico’s Forever War Against the Cartels

Mexico’s complaint alleges the manufacturers, including major industry players like Smith & Wesson and Glock, are “deliberate and willing participants, reaping profits from the criminal market they knowingly supply.” The companies are accused of raking in at least $170 million annually from selling guns that are smuggled across the border—up to nearly 600,000 weapons per year, according to estimates cited by Mexico.

In dismissing Mexico’s lawsuit, the judge did assign some blame to the United States for fueling gun violence in Mexico. 

“The indirect causes are no doubt many, but surely a substantial portion of the blame rests with American citizens,” Saylor wrote. “The rise of Mexican criminal organizations has been fueled by the unrelenting demand of Americans for illegal drugs, and those same organizations now play an ever-increasing role in the smuggling of illegal migrants across the border.”


Mexico alleges that gun companies could use data from U.S. law enforcement to obtain more detailed information about which licensed dealers sell the most guns that are later recovered from crime scenes south of the border. Instead of keeping close tabs on this data, the lawsuit claims, the policy of the manufacturers is “to sell to any distributor or dealer that has a U.S. license to buy and sell the product, regardless of the buyer’s record of flouting the law and despite blazing red flags indicating that a gun dealer is conspiring with straw purchasers or others to traffic… guns into Mexico.”

While the gun companies sued by Mexico have not offered any public comment since Friday’s ruling, according to the news agency Reuters, a lawyer who represents a firearms industry trade group welcomed the dismissal of the "baseless lawsuit."

"The crime that is devastating the people of Mexico is not the fault of members of the firearm industry, that under U.S. law, can only sell their lawful products to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights after passing a background check," said Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Celorio, however, said he believes Mexico’s case is far from over—especially if Friday’s outcome raises new awareness about a U.S. law passed in 2005 called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA for short. The controversial law has also been under fire in the U.S. recently, with mass shootings such as the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, renewing the debate about whether gun companies should be held legally responsible when their products are used to kill.


While Celorio argued that Mexico’s lawsuit could and should prevail despite the PLCAA, he said Judge Saylor’s ruling was not necessarily a death blow. In fact, Mexico’s lawyer believes the judge went so far as to say the arguments in the case were solid.

“It’s very encouraging for us that the judge—and this is my conclusion—said that if not for the law of immunity, this lawsuit could continue,” Celorio said. “It’s not saying we would necessarily win, but that it could continue, and that Mexico could prove a connection between what these companies we sued are doing and what’s happening with the violence in Mexico.”

Mexico now has 30 days from the judge’s decision to file a formal notice of appeal, and then the case will go to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. If the appellate judges ultimately side with Mexico, the lawsuit would most likely be sent back to Saylor for reconsideration. If that happens and the PLCAA stands in the way once again, Celorio said, the law ought to be repealed.

“It looks to me like the judge put the conversation in the hands of Congress and the general public,” Celorio said. “Is it more important to have a law that protects an industry or to save lives?”

Miguel Fernández-Flores contributed reporting.