Mexico sued several gun manufacturers in a federal court in the United States on Wednesday, accusing them of reckless business practises that supply a “torrent” of illegal arms to violent Mexican drug cartels, resulting in thousands of deaths.
The lawsuit claims that Smith & Wesson (SWBI.O), Barrett Firearms, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Glock Inc, Sturm, Ruger & Co, and other companies were aware that their business practises encouraged illegal arms trafficking into Mexico.
The lawsuit cites weapons that had entered Mexico used in notorious shootings, noting that Colt’s .38-caliber “Emiliano Zapata 1911” pistol is engraved with the image of the Mexican revolutionary, and is a status symbol coveted by drug cartels.
“What’s the objective? That the companies in question compensate Mexico’s government for the damage caused by their negligent practices,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference about the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
The lawsuit is one of the most audacious steps taken by Mexico to put pressure on the United States’ arms industry, which Mexican leaders have long blamed for fueling gang violence.
Companies needed to stop their harmful practises immediately, Ebrard said, noting that the court would decide how much money should be paid in damages. He spoke after Mexican officials told reporters that the lawsuit was worth $10 billion.
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc (NSSF) said it rejected Mexico’s claims that U.S. manufacturers were negligent in their business practices.
“The Mexican government is responsible for the rampant crime and corruption within their own borders,” Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF’s senior vice president, said in a statement. He said cartels use guns taken illegally to Mexico or stolen from Mexican military and law enforcement.
Mexico accused the companies of assisting in the circumvention of the country’s strict gun laws by marketing to the country’s criminal underworld and thus “actively facilitating the unlawful trafficking of their guns to drug cartels.”
On June 12, 2021, guns are displayed following a gun buyback event organised by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in the Queens borough of New York City, United States. AFP/Eduardo Munoz
Mexican officials said they had spent two years researching legal precedents concerning the negligence of US arms manufacturers.
They pointed to cases including a recent offer by Remington Arms Co to pay nearly $33 million to families to settle lawsuits claiming that its marketing of firearms contributed to the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut, where 26 people died.
Claims of improper marketing have been used in other lawsuits as an exception to U.S. law that provides legal immunity to the gun industry, and could be pushing companies to become more transparent in explaining their operations.
“There are efforts that seem to be making some headway to make the gun industry and manufacturers in particular divulge records about how they think about marketing, distribution and sale practices,” said Timothy Lytton, a professor at the Georgia State University College of Law.
According to Mexico’s lawsuit, over 500,000 guns are trafficked from the United States into Mexico each year, with the firms in question producing more than 68 percent of them, or over 340,000.
In recent years, Mexico has experienced record-high homicide rates.
According to a Mexican official, weapons trafficked into Mexico were responsible for at least 17,000 murders in 2019. Another official estimated that the economic damage caused by the violence was around 1.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Mexican officials stated that they expected the case to take a long time to resolve, but that they were confident of success because it was brought in the United States to ensure impartiality.
One Mexican official said the lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts because some of the companies were based there.
Mexican officials stated that the lawsuit was not directed at the US government, and Ebrard stated that the Biden administration was willing to collaborate with Mexico to combat arms trafficking.
Ebrard, a leading candidate for Mexico’s presidential elections in 2024, has repeatedly expressed concern about gun trafficking and lax gun controls in the United States.
The lawsuit was announced a day after Ebrard travelled to El Paso, Texas, to mark the second anniversary of the killing of 22 people at a Walmart, where the shooter was accused of deliberately targeting Mexicans.