The Mexican government on Wednesday sued arms manufacturers and distributors in the United States in U.S. federal court, arguing that their negligent and illegal business practices sparked massive bloodshed in Mexico.
The unusual lawsuit was filed in US federal court in Boston. Among those prosecuted are some of the biggest names in guns, including: Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc .; Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Inc .; Beretta USA Corp .; Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC and Glock Inc. Another defendant is Interstate Arms, a Boston-area wholesaler that sells firearms from all of the manufacturers mentioned except one to dealers in the United States.
The manufacturers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Mexican government maintains that companies know their practices contribute to and facilitate the trafficking of firearms into Mexico. Mexico wants compensation for the devastation caused by guns in its country.
The Mexican government “is implementing this action to end the massive damage caused by the defendants by actively facilitating the illegal trafficking of their weapons to drug cartels and other criminals in Mexico,” according to the lawsuit.
The government estimates that 70% of the arms sold in Mexico come from the United States, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. And in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides were linked to arms trafficking.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the U.S. firearms industry, said in a statement it rejects Mexico’s allegations of negligence.
“These allegations are baseless. The Mexican government is responsible for the endemic crime and corruption within its own borders,” said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the group. The Mexican government is responsible for enforcing its laws, he said.
The group also took issue with Mexico’s figures for the number of weapons recovered from crime scenes and tracing back to the United States. probably from the United States
Alejandro Celorio, legal adviser to the ministry, told reporters on Wednesday that damage from smuggled firearms would amount to 1.7% to 2% of Mexico’s gross domestic product. The government will seek at least $ 10 billion in compensation, he said. Last year, Mexico’s GDP was over $ 1.2 trillion.
“We are not doing it to put pressure on the United States,” Celorio said. “We are doing it so that there are no deaths in Mexico.”
Ebrard said the lawsuit was another part of the government’s anti-gun efforts. “The priority is that we reduce homicides,” he said. “We are not looking to change US laws.”
Mexico has not sought the advice of the US government on the matter, but has advised the US Embassy before taking legal action.
Steve Shadowen, lead attorney representing Mexico, said that in the early 2000s, around 30 U.S. cities filed similar lawsuits against gun manufacturers, arguing they should be responsible for the increase police costs, hospitalization and other costs associated with gun violence.
As some cities started to win, gunmakers went to Congress and gained immunity status for the manufacturers. Shadowen said he believes immunity does not apply when the injury occurs outside of the United States.
“The substance of the matter is strongly in our favor and then we have to get around this immunity status that we think we are gaining,” he said. “This law just doesn’t apply. It only applies when you’re in the United States.”
He said he believed it was the first time that a foreign government has prosecuted gun manufacturers.
Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and an expert on gun policy, called Mexico’s efforts “a long shot.”
“This is a bold and innovative trial,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like it before. Gun manufacturers have enjoyed broad immunity from prosecution for two decades now.”
He said he had not seen any arguments that the law on the protection of the licit arms trade only applied to damages in the United States.
The sale of firearms is strictly regulated in Mexico and controlled by the Ministry of Defense. But thousands of weapons are smuggled into Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels.
There were more than 36,000 murders in Mexico last year, and the death toll has remained stubbornly high despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s promise to pacify the country. Mexico’s nationwide murder rate in 2020 remained unchanged at 29 per 100,000 population. For comparison, the homicide rate in the United States in 2019 was 5.8 per 100,000.