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Mexico guns

Thousands of guns seized from members of drug cartels are destroyed by Mexican authorities in Cuidad Juárez, Chihuahua state, on February 16, 2012. (Photo: Jesus Alcazar/AFP via Getty Images)

Mexico Files Historic Lawsuit Against US Gun Companies Fueling Cartel Carnage

The first-of-its-kind suit alleges U.S. weapons firms "design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico."

Brett Wilkins

In a historic move welcomed by U.S. gun control advocates, the Mexican government on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Massachusetts against American weapons manufacturers and suppliers, accusing them of negligent business practices enabling the illegal cross-border arms flow that contributes to Mexico's record homicide rate.

"Almost all guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico—70% to 90% of them—were trafficked from the U.S."

The government of Mexico says the first-of-its-kind lawsuit (pdf), filed in U.S. federal court in Boston, seeks to "put an end to the massive damage that the defendants cause by actively facilitating the unlawful trafficking of their guns to drug cartels and other criminals in Mexico."

"Almost all guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico—70% to 90% of them—were trafficked from the U.S.," the lawsuit says.

At a Wednesday news conference, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that "these weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is living through today."

The previous day, Ebrard traveled to El Paso, Texas to commemorate the 22 people killed at a Walmart store last year by a gunman who admitted to deliberately targeting Mexicans.

The Mexican government—which linked more than 17,000 of the nation's 34,648 homicides in 2019 to trafficked weapons—is seeking compensation for as much as $10 billion in alleged damages. Companies listed in the complaint include Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta USA, Colt's Manufacturing Co., Glock, and Sturm, Ruger & Co.

"For decades the [Mexican] 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 suit says. "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."

The lawsuit continues:

Defendants design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico. Defendants use reckless and corrupt gun dealers and dangerous and illegal sales practices that the cartels rely on to get their guns. Defendants design these guns to be easily modified to fire automatically and to be readily transferable on the criminal market in Mexico. Defendants know how to make and sell their guns to prevent this illegal trade; the U.S. government and a U.S. court told them how. Defendants defy those recommendations, and many others, and instead choose to continue supplying the criminal gun market in Mexico—because they profit from it.

The suit notes that Mexico has "strong domestic laws that make it virtually impossible for criminals to lawfully obtain guns in Mexico."

"Mexico has one gun store in the entire nation and issues fewer than 50 gun permits per year," the complaint says. "Defendants undermine these stringent laws, and wreak havoc in Mexican society, by persistently supplying a torrent of guns to the drug cartels."

"The gun industry must not be allowed to turn a blind eye to the decadeslong steady flow of U.S.-made guns that has terrorized innocent Mexicans and armed violent criminal organizations."
—Kristen Rand, VPC

"It is estimated that more than a half million guns annually are trafficked from the U.S. into Mexico," the document states. "Defendants produce more than 68% of those U.S.-origin trafficked guns, which means that they annually sell more than 340,000 guns that flow from their plants in Massachusetts and other U.S. states to criminals south of the border."

The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a U.S. nonprofit gun control group, has tracked thousands of weapons—including military-style assault weapons and high-caliber sniper rifles—illegally trafficked from the United States into Mexico.

VPC legislative director Kristen Rand told Common Dreams in an email that "the U.S. gun industry must be held accountable for the devastation its products inflict in Mexico."

"The gun industry must not be allowed to turn a blind eye to the decadeslong steady flow of U.S.-made guns that has terrorized innocent Mexicans and armed violent criminal organizations," added Rand. "This lawsuit is a major step toward holding a rogue industry accountable."

In addition to financial damages, the lawsuit seeks to compel U.S. gun-makers to:

  • Abate and remedy the public nuisance they have created in Mexico;
  • Create and implement standards sufficient to reasonably monitor and discipline their distribution systems;
  • Incorporate all reasonably available safety mechanisms into their guns, including devices to prevent use of those guns by unauthorized users; and
  • Fund studies, programs, advertising campaigns, and other events focused on preventing unlawful trafficking of guns.

Mexican Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal—who, like Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is a member of the social democratic MORENA party—told La Jornada that the lawsuit is "an unprecedented event" that seeks to "prevent the continued generation of this tragedy that Mexico is experiencing."

"I am sure," said Monreal, "that many of our problems in terms of violence are caused by the illegal use and illegal introduction of weapons into our country."

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