Attorney General Bonta Defends Mexico’s Efforts to Hold Gun Manufacturers Accountable

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting the Mexican government’s lawsuit against gun manufacturers to hold them accountable for their contributions to gun violence in Mexico. The brief was filed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc. According to a 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates that 70% of the firearms recovered in Mexico from 2014 through 2018 originated in the United States. In today’s brief, the attorneys general seek to overturn a district court decision dismissing the suit and argue that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) does not shield the companies, including Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Ruger, Glock, Century Arms, Barrett, and Colt; as well as gun distributor Interstate Arms, from accountability.

“Gun manufacturers and sellers seem to believe PLCAA gives them a free pass to make and distribute weapons they know are being trafficked and used to terrorize communities in Mexico,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In most industries, companies are well-aware that they can be held accountable when they violate the law — firearms should be no different. We urge the court to reverse the district court decision and allow this case to move forward.”

In Mexico, legally purchasing a firearm is nearly impossible. The country has one gun store and issues fewer than 50 gun permits per year. Despite this, an estimated 200,000 firearms are trafficked into Mexico from the United States every year.

PLCAA allows gun manufacturers and sellers to be held liable for their own misconduct when they knowingly violate the law. In 2022, the Mexican government filed a lawsuit against eight gun manufacturers and a distributor alleging the companies have been fully aware that their firearms are being trafficked into the country and that the companies — not a third party — knowingly violated laws applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms. 

In November, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Mexico’s claim after concluding that the common-law claims were barred by PLCAA and that Mexico had not plausibly alleged the statutory claims. Mexico has appealed their case to the First Circuit. 

In today’s brief, the attorneys general urge the court to reverse the district court decision, as PLCAA does not shield the firearms industry from accountability for their role in fueling the rampant gun violence in Mexico. The attorneys general argue that:

  • The district court’s interpretation of PLCAA intrudes on states’ authority by limiting the states’ ability to create remedies for conduct that causes harm to their residents;
  • Congress did not intend to preclude actions against members of the firearm industry for their own misconduct; and
  • PLCAA’s “predicate exemption” allows civil actions against a firearm industry defendant who has knowingly violated a statute applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm or other qualified product.

A copy of the brief is available here.


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