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Mexico can sue US gunmakers, federal appeals court rules

A federal appeals court has ruled that Mexico can sue a group of US gun manufacturers and a distributor, finding the claims made by the country in a lawsuit are “statutorily exempt” from a law that typically protects the companies from liability.

Mexico filed the lawsuit in August 2021, alleging the defendants – among them brands including Smith & Wesson, Colt and Glock – “design, market, distribute and sell guns in ways” that arm Mexican drug cartels, contributing significantly to a rise in gun violence within Mexico, despite strong regulations.

The complaint was dismissed by a US district court in September 2022, which ruled Mexico’s claims “were barred by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” according to the ruling published Monday by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Mexico appealed, and the US Circuit Court ultimately disagreed with the lower court’s ruling. On Monday, a three-judge panel in Boston found “that Mexico’s complaint plausibly alleges a type of claim that is statutorily exempt from the PLCAA’s general prohibition.”

“We therefore reverse the district court’s holding that the PLCAA bars Mexico’s common law claims, and we remand for further proceedings.”

The government of Mexico said in a news release Monday it welcomed the ruling, adding the case would return to a lower court where the country will present evidence to “demonstrate the defendants’ negligence” and seek damages.

CNN has reached out to the defendants for comment on Monday’s ruling. A representative from Glock told CNN in the past it was company policy not to comment on pending litigation, but that the company would “vigorously” defend itself.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group, suggested previously the lawsuit and its targets were misplaced.

“The Mexican government should focus on bringing the Mexican drug cartels to justice in Mexican courtrooms,” said NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane, “not filing a baseless lawsuit in an American court to deflect attention from its disgraceful and corrupt failure to protect its citizens.”

Mexico – which says its lawsuit is the first brought by a foreign government against members of the US gun industry – claims the defendants are aware their practices arm cartels but do nothing to stop it.

Instead, Mexico claims, the weapons are designed and marketed in ways that are attractive to the cartels, and the defendants allegedly maintain a distribution system that facilitates illegal trafficking.

Homicides in Mexico declined between 1999 and 2004, when a ban on assault weapons in the United States expired, the complaint claims. But homicides subsequently increased alongside production and distribution of the defendant’s products.

Mexico claims between 342,000 and 597,000 weapons produced by the defendants are trafficked into the country each year. The country has claimed “almost all” the weapons recovered from crime scenes – 70% to 90% – were trafficked from the United States.

When the original case was filed, Mexico’s then-foreign minister told reporters the country would seek at least $10 billion in damages.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report.

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