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Whose to blame for cartel violence? Some Democrats say U.S. gun manufacturers

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(The Center Square) – Several U.S. House Democrats, led by two Texans, have introduced a bill that would strip certain gun rights from Americans as they blame American gun manufacturers and Republicans for Mexican cartel violence.

They make similar arguments as the Mexican government, which claims in a lawsuit against U.S. gun manufacturers – Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., et.al., v. Mexico – that the manufacturers are responsible for cartel violence.

After a federal judge dismissed Mexico’s lawsuit in 2022, on appeal, the First Circuit Court ruled in favor of Mexico. Next, a 27-state coalition led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to throw out the case.

The coalition argues the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 balances “Americans’ Second Amendment right with the need to keep guns away from criminals while protecting firearms companies from being held liable for crimes committed with their products.”

The First Circuit ruled that Mexico’s claims fall within an exception to PLCAA, which Knudsen’s coalition argues is a wrong interpretation of the law.

“Rather than take responsibility, Mexico and anti-gun activists are trying to blame and bankrupt American companies that follow the law,” Knudsen said. “The appeals court erred in their decision and the Supreme Court needs to correct it.”

As cartel violence surged in Mexico, its outgoing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, implemented a “hugs not bullets” policy with the cartels. He also blamed Americans for Mexico’s violence, as dozens of candidates were murdered in Mexico’s most recent election cycle, The Center Square reported.

Not soon after Mexico’s “bullets before ballots” violence, U.S. House Democrats introduced their bill.

U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar of Texas introduced the Stop Arming Cartels Act “to address the sale and trafficking of firearms from the United States to transnational criminal organizations around the world.” It would prohibit “the further sale of 0.50 caliber rifles” and regulate existing 0.50 caliber rifles by “applying the same reporting requirements for handguns to rifles.”

“When I speak to leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean, their number-one request is for Congress to stop American weapons of war from falling into the hands of the gangs that are destabilizing their countries,” Castro said. “Especially in Mexico, access to .50 caliber rifles has fundamentally altered the balance of power between criminal organizations and the government and allowed cartels to become virtually untouchable.”

It is largely illegal for Mexican citizens to own firearms, with only one shop in all of Mexico where a small caliber weapon can be legally purchased in a heavily guarded military base, The Los Angeles Times has reported.

Weapons trafficking, a felony, is already illegal in the U.S., American gun manufacturers do not sell their products to transnational criminal organizations, and the PLCAA protects them from such lawsuits, Second Amendment proponents argue.

Escobar also blamed Republicans for Mexican and Latin American gun violence. “A refusal to act would mean continuing to arm transnational criminal organizations and cartels that purchase these weapons for illicit acts,” she said. She also says the bill would “prohibit the sale of certain rifles to prevent further violence and bloodshed.”

The Democratic lawmakers point to reports claiming Mexican cartels’ weapons of choice are .50 caliber rifles purchased throughs straw buyers and then trafficked south to Mexico. They cite a Violence Policy Center report that has documented examples of how long range .50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles create an “imminent threat to national security.”

The ammunition “can penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars and bulk storage tanks filled with explosive or toxic chemicals, all with potentially catastrophic effect. Although designed for use by the military on the battlefield, 50 caliber anti-armor rifles – and armor-piercing and armor-piercing incendiary ammunition for them – are easily available on the U.S. civilian market,” the report states.

The bill, which is likely not to advance in the Republican-controlled House, highlights a concerted effort by Democrats to restrict gun rights of U.S. citizens, knowing that cartel members do not legally purchase weapons, critics argue.

“This bill will not keep firearms out of the hands of the cartels or stop gun violence in America or abroad,” Knudsen told The Center Square. “This is simply an attempt by the left and anti-gun activists to encroach on the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans who should not be punished for the cartel’s criminal behavior. If countries south of the border were actually interested in stopping crime and gun violence, they would fix their broken policies that created the problem.”

The bill would ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer or possession of .50 caliber rifles excluding for governmental use. It would create a new regulation of .50 caliber rifles for lawful U.S. gunowners who currently possess the rifles under the National Firearms Act by assigning a fee waiver and 12-month grace period to register on the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

It also would create an exception to the PLCAA, enabling victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers and dealers who engage in firearm transactions that violate the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. It would mandate that firearms dealers report multiple sales of rifles to state and local law enforcement agencies, mirroring the current requirement for handguns.

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