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Mexico is suing a Connecticut gun manufacturer. Here's what is at stake

Mexico is seeking relief for the alleged economic and societal harm caused by guns trafficked from the U.S. One of the manufacturers is Connecticut-based Colt.
Shahrzad Rasekh
CT Mirror
Mexico is seeking relief for the alleged economic and societal harm caused by guns trafficked from the U.S. One of the manufacturers is Connecticut-based Colt.

Mexico has accused multiple U.S. gun manufacturers of marketing their weapons to drug cartels. One of them, Colt's Manufacturing LLC, is headquartered in West Hartford, Connecticut.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s José Luis Martínez to discuss his article, “Mexico accused CT’s Colt, other gunmakers of marketing to drug cartels. Stakes are high in court,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Hello, Jose. You write that more than 8,000 Colt firearms have been recovered in Mexico since 2010. That's according to the Mexican army. Many of the Colt firearms have Mexican names such as El Jefe, El Grito and Emiliano Zapata 1911. What do these names mean? And how does that play out in the case that the Mexican government has presented in court against Colt and the other gun manufacturers?

JLM: Yeah. So you have the government of Mexico, they are suing various gunmakers here in the U.S., including Connecticut-based Colt. And they're saying, 'Hey, you're marketing to drug cartels, you're making it easy for them to modify their guns, you're aiding and abetting gun trafficking.' And some of the examples that Mexico provided were guns such as El Hefe, El Grito and the Emiliano Zapata 1911. And El Hefe means the boss and El Grito means the shout, which is a tribute to Mexico’s Independence Day. And Emiliano Zapata, he's a revolutionary hero.

Mexico is basically saying, 'Look, these designs that you're making, they're pandering to the criminal market in Mexico.' And that's just a fraction of the entire argument. Overall, they're saying, 'Look, you should take some responsibility for a lot of the economic losses we're experiencing and the deaths that are occurring in our country.' It's a civil lawsuit. So they're seeking damages. And they're hoping for an injunction that would require the gunmakers to monitor their distribution systems to make their guns safer to use, among other things.

WSHU: So there's an interesting fact that comes out in your article, the fact that Colt is no longer Connecticut-owned. It now belongs to a Czech firearms manufacturer, how does that affect the case?

JLM: Yeah, so in 2021, Colt got bought out by a Czech firearms company. In the end, the new company will still have to pay up legal fees to support Colt. And this affects all the other various companies. I mean, they all have to pay legal fees. Let's say that case were to get remanded back to district court, the gunmakers were found to be guilty, they will have to pay up whatever the judge decides. Whether it's monetary damages, or they'd be required to monitor the distribution system.

WSHU: Now, you say Colt and the other manufacturers are seeking relief under U.S. federal law, which grants gun manufacturers legal immunity from the misuse of the weapons that they sell. They actually won in district court, this is now being appealed by Mexico, and the appeal is being heard in the federal appeals court in Boston. You were at the hearing, what are the arguments?

JLM: Yeah, so Mexico is saying, 'Look, you should be held responsible.' They filed that lawsuit in 2021. Now, the gunmakers responded before they even got to court, they filed a motion to dismiss saying 'There's this U.S. federal law, it's called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PACA. PACA protects us from immunity, any sort of civil immunity.' And you can't file a lawsuit against gunmakers. It's federal law that was passed in 2005 by Congress. There's some exceptions, but the gunmakers claim that based on this law, you can't sue us. So how did Mexico respond? What they said was, 'Look, the harms happened in Mexico, so Mexican law should apply.' But then they also say, 'Look, even if PACA did apply, the violation of state and federal laws provides that exception.'

So basically, Mexico is saying they violated gun laws here in Mexico. So that immunity law does not apply. So now we're up here and the appellate court session was earlier this morning, and Mexico made those two arguments — it's Mexican law that should apply and even if PACA did apply, there are violations of federal law. The gunmakers are pushing back. They're saying, 'Look, they're not formally alleging that PACA still protects us from immunity.' And there was no ruling. Now it's up to the three-judge panel to interpret PACA and see if there are any exceptions that Mexico can claim or are gunmakers really barred from this.

WSHU: And the thing about PACA is that it was passed by a Republican Congress back in 2005. Around the same time that the federal assault weapons ban expired. You've been looking at the data, what was the trajectory of gun manufacturers and assault weapons, right after the lifting of the federal ban?

JLM: Yeah. So in the lawsuit, Mexico claims that after the weapon ban expired in the U.S., the homicides increased in Mexico. And so we turned to the data, we pulled data from Mexico on their firearm homicide data. And then we also pulled ATF data on the number of firearms made, and you don't see an increase immediately in both.

And in our analysis, the CT Mirror, we don't inference causation to each. But in the numbers, you see that after a few years, starting in 2004, a few years after it, firearm homicides in Mexico do increase. And the number of firearms made in the U.S. do increase. And we didn't just want to rely on our own analysis just looking at the chart, we looked at what academics and experts have to say, and they did a similar analysis. In a study by the American Political Science Review, they also linked the rising homicides to the expiration of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

WSHU: And it's not just Mexico. It's the entire region, right?

JLM: Yeah, there's other nations that are interested in the case, some have filed as friends of the court in the case siding with Mexico, but the data that I referenced was just for Mexico.

WSHU: Okay, now Connecticut's two U.S. Senators, Chris Murphy (D) and Richard Blumenthal (D) have both been trying to change federal law to try and tighten gun restrictions in the U.S. What have they been doing? And what's the likelihood that some action might be taken?

JLM: Yes. So one of the interesting parts of this is that during the story, there was aggregate data from the ATF on the number of guns traced in each region, and whether it could be traced back to the manufacturer. Now, we did try to request more detailed data regarding the make of the guns. But there were some amendments passed in 2003 by Congress, which limits a lot of the data that's available to the public regarding this firearm trace data.

And since then both Connecticut U.S. senators have tried to repeal those provisions. They want to pass a law called the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act. They introduced it again this year. It would repeal many of those provisions, so that data like this is available to the public. And in the story, we quote Murphy, and Murphy says it's harder to solve gun crimes and crack down on gun traffickers. They're collaborating with Mexican officials, but they're hoping that these, they're called the TR amendments. They're hoping that the TR amendments are repealed so that they have more access to data.

WSHU: The other thing is that how much gun manufacturing does Colt do in Connecticut these days? It seems most of the facilities are no longer functioning. Are they still manufacturing weapons in Connecticut?

JLM: Yes, they're based in West Hartford. They used to be in another part of Hartford, but now their corporate headquarters, and a lot of their manufacturing, takes place in West Hartford. So that's where a lot of Connecticut people are employed. That's what's at stake. A lot of these marketing decisions or these internal documents that might be requested from them, those are at the corporate headquarters here in Connecticut. So yeah, the manufacturing has been going on since the 1800s, Colt has been manufacturing here for a while, and that's what makes it relevant.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.