A gunmaker gave $15k to a GOP group led by Utah A.G. Reyes. Members are now backing the company in a lawsuit.

Gun Rights

Two months after one of the world’s largest gun manufacturers donated $15,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, chaired by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, nearly all of its members joined a brief defending the company and arguing it isn’t liable for hundreds of thousands shooting deaths in Mexico, many using guns smuggled from the U.S.

Earlier this year, an appeals court revived the lawsuit that Mexico initially filed in 2021 against Smith & Wesson and nine other companies, alleging the gunmakers were aware the arms were being trafficked into the country.

On Tuesday, Reyes, and 25 other attorneys general — led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who is also the vice chair of RAGA — joined the Arizona Legislature in filing the brief in an effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision.

“The level of violence at our Southern border and in parts of Mexico are out of control and tragic,” Reyes said Friday in a news release. “Our hearts go out to those who have suffered from such wanton and senseless conduct. But Mexico’s attempt to blame gun manufacturers is misplaced. The Mexican government must accept responsibility for its own policy choices and priorities in creating or allowing the environment that gives rise to its complaints.”

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According to donation disclosure forms the organization has submitted to the IRS, the March 7 donation from Smith & Wesson is its first ever. The National Rifle Association, which also submitted a friend-of-the-court brief, is a prolific RAGA donor, contributing $125,000 last year.

Since he was elected attorney general in 2013, state campaign finance records indicate Reyes has received nearly $400,000 from RAGA. The most recent contribution the organization made to Reyes, who is not running for reelection, was $12,500 in 2023.

A spokesperson for Reyes’ office did not respond to questions about the donation to RAGA, and whether it played a role in the GOP attorneys general drafting and signing onto the brief.

“We hope [the Supreme Court] takes this opportunity to properly interpret the law and protect lawful gun manufacturers from liability for misuse of their products,” Reyes’ statement said. “If the Mexican government wants to hold others liable for impact to its country, perhaps it should be held responsible for the tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in America from fentanyl and other illicit substances coming from drug operations based in Mexico.”

Reyes and his Republican counterparts argue that the case has the potential to threaten Americans’ Second Amendment rights. They also contend that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields firearms manufacturers from being held responsible for crimes committed with their products, invalidates Mexico’s claims.

There are some exceptions to the law, including if manufacturers knowingly violated state or federal statute. The appeals court allowed the lawsuit to go forward on that basis.

Reyes’ release says, from his perspective, Congress exclusively regulates the firearms industry and defines the scope of PLCAA’s exceptions, adding that “Mexico’s sovereign power undercuts” its allegations.

“Mexico could simply close — indeed, militarize — its border with the United States if it chose to do so,” the release says, quoting the brief. “Doubtless the closure would be painful, and Mexico has chosen to do otherwise. Indeed, Mexico has flung its border open and sought to extort billions of dollars from the United States to even attempt to manage the resulting chaos.”

According to the Mexican government’s original complaint, “Almost all guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico — 70% to 90% of them — were trafficked from the U.S.”

“For decades the government and its citizens have been victimized by a deadly flood of military-style and other particularly lethal guns that flows from the U.S. across the border, into criminal hands in Mexico,” the country’s filing continues. “This flood is not a natural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of the gun business or of U.S. gun laws. It is the foreseeable result of the defendants’ deliberate actions and business practices.”

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