Mexico sues U.S.-based gunmakers over flow of arms across border
Jose Luis Gonzalez Reuters
MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government sued several major U.S.-based gun manufacturers Wednesday, alleging that their lax controls contribute to the illegal flow of weapons over the border, according to court documents.
The unusual suit was filed in U.S. federal court in Boston, since some of the manufacturers are headquartered in Massachusetts, according to the documents. The suit — which seeks unspecified financial compensation from the companies — does not target the U.S. government.
Mexican authorities believe U.S.-made weapons have fueled the explosive violence that has transformed parts of the country over the past decade. Around 2.5 million illicit American guns have poured across the border in that time period, according to a Mexican government study released last year. Legal gun sales in Mexico are tightly restricted.
The lawsuit maintains that the U.S. arms manufacturers “are conscious of the fact that their products are trafficked and used in illicit activities against the civilian population and authorities of Mexico,” according to a document from the Foreign Ministry.
“Nonetheless, they continue to prioritize their economic benefit, and use marketing strategies to promote weapons that are ever more lethal, without mechanisms of security or traceability,” it continued.
The suit names companies including Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc.; Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Inc; Beretta U.S.A. Corp; Glock, Inc; and Colt’s Manufacturing Co. Llc.
In addition to financial damages sought — which Mexican officials estimated could run to $10 billion if the lawsuit is successful — it also seeks the adoption of tighter controls on sales and better security features on weapons. It wants the companies to undertake studies and media campaigns to prevent arms trafficking.
Jose Luis Gonzalez
Activist Susie Melendez raises her hands during a prayer at a tribute to the victims of the August 3, 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Tex., on the second anniversary of the slayings.
The companies did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. But in the past, gun manufacturers have denied responsibility for crimes in which their weapons were used. The firearms industry has maintained it tries to ensure that guns can only be purchased by those legally allowed to own them.
A federal law that took effect in 2005 shields gun manufacturers from most civil liability claims, making it difficult for lawsuits like Mexico’s to succeed.
Homicides have skyrocketed in recent years in Mexico, as drug cartels have splintered into smaller, feuding groups that have diversified into extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities. Meanwhile, the drug networks have boosted shipments of heroin, methamphetamines and fentanyl to the United States.
Successive Mexican presidents have tried to stanch the violence by reforming the justice system, targeting drug kingpins and increasing social benefits to lure young people away from crime. But they have had few results. Security analysts say the government hasn’t had the political will to carry out a more profound transformation of the courts and police that could tackle corruption and impunity for drug crimes.
The Mexican government blames the violence, in part, on the flow of U.S.-made weapons.
Mexican criminal organizations are able to obtain military-grade weapons through straw buyers in the United States with relative ease. In recent years, for example, the use of .50-caliber sniper rifles has grown in Mexico. The gun has been used by criminal organizations to target top Mexican officials.
The government alleges that U.S. gunmakers design weapons that will appeal to Mexican crime groups — citing, for example, a Colt .38 Super pistol engraved with an image of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. That model handgun was used in the assassination of an investigative journalist, Miroslava Breach, in 2017.
“Mexico is denouncing these promotional practices, along with other examples of negligence, like multiple weapons sales to a solo buyer, and the absence of background checks,” said the Foreign Ministry documents.
While weapons manufacturers have largely rebuffed lawsuits seeking to hold them responsible for gun violence, Mexican authorities said several recent cases had given them hope. Among them was a decision by a San Diego judge that survivors and relatives of 2019 shooting at a synagogue could move ahead with a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the weapon used in the attack.
The Mexican suit was filed a day after the anniversary of the 2019 mass shooting in the border city of El Paso, Tex., which left 23 people dead. The suspect said that he targeted Latinos, according to U.S. authorities.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, had vowed after that attack to study legal actions because of the harm to Mexican citizens.
Kevin Sieff in Mexico City and Taylor Telford in Washington contributed to this report.