CARICOM states join Mexico’s anti-gun lawsuit in the US

31st March 2023

Several CARICOM countries have signed on to an anti-gun lawsuit filed by Mexico in the US.

Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, The Bahamas, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago have joined an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by Mexico appealing a decision in US court to hold gun makers responsible for facilitating the trafficking of deadly weapons across the border.

The news comes as gun control debates have sharpened in the US as law enforcement investigate another high-profile mass school shooting in Tennessee where six persons including three children lost their lives.

Mexico’s US$10bn lawsuit named several defendants including major gun manufacturers Smith and Wesson Brands Inc, Sturm, Ruger and Co, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc, Beretta USA Corp, Colt’s Manufacturing Co, Century International Arms Inc, Witmer Public Safety Group Inc and Glock Inc.

It is an appeal of an earlier ruling by a US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in September 2022, which dismissed Mexico’s case citing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which protects arms manufacturers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products.

“Unlawful trafficking of American firearms must be curtailed at its source: the US gun industry. The gun manufacturers and distributers from a single nation must not be permitted to hold hostage the law-abiding citizens of an entire region of the world,” said the brief, arguing that the judge’s decision was “premised on a misreading” of the law.

It contends that US gun industry practices, including the bulk sales of guns to dealers who are known to engage in practices correlated with illegal weapons smuggling, have caused significant harm to the countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

In August 2022, US officials acknowledged a spike in weapons smuggling to Haiti and the Caribbean in previous months. “Not only have we seen a marked uptick in the number of weapons, but a serious increase in the calibre and type of firearms being illegally trafficked,” said Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Miami.

“We have been ramping up our efforts to stem the flow of illicit weapons into Haiti and the Caribbean,” insisted Salisbury, standing alongside officials from other US stakeholder agencies including the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.

Announcing the move to join the suit, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis decried the impact on his country. “We do not manufacture guns in our country, and yet they illegally find their way to The Bahamas, and within days, can be connected to some criminal activity… We believe more manageable and effective efforts can be made at the source, to ensure that a right to bear arms does not quickly and easily translate into a right to traffic arms,” said Davis.

He added that “a critical element of the government’s effort to reduce violent crime in the country is cracking down on the proliferation of firearms, with particular focus on strengthening borders and entry points and on interrupting networks of illegal smugglers.”

Quizzed in Parliament by opposition MP Roodal Moonilal on what the lawsuit was costing Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Keith Rowley sought to clear the air.

“Our association with the Mexicans in pursuing this matter at this time has no cost attached to it. It’s more of a diplomatic attachment where we’re supporting Mexico’s actions in the US courts… As a sovereign nation, we’re making our voices heard and we’re standing alongside another sovereign nation that’s having the same problem that we have,” said Rowley, while hinting that the country may be willing to contribute financially “if it comes to a point where we’re required to make other adjustments”.

Speaking last year at the 77th UN General Assembly in the US, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for an international ‘war on guns’ as countries in Latin America and the Caribbean deal with an influx of illegal weapons and surging murder rates.

The brief is also being supported by the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Human Security (SEHLAC) and several US states including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.