Mexico Sues Gun Companies in U.S., Accusing Them of Fueling Violence
Natalie Kitroeff, Oscar Lopez
Aug. 4, 2021
MEXICO CITY -- For years, Mexican officials have complained that lax
U.S. gun control was responsible for devastating bloodshed in Mexico.
On Wednesday, they moved their campaign into American courts, filing a
lawsuit against 10 gun manufacturers and suppliers.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Massachusetts, was the first
time that a national government has sued gun makers in the United
States, officials said. The suit accuses the companies of negligently
facilitating the flow of weapons to powerful drug cartels, and fueling
a trade in which 70 percent of guns traced in Mexico are found to have
come from the United States.
"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," the lawsuit reads. The
flood of weaponry is "the foreseeable result of the defendants'
deliberate actions and business practices."
The government cited as an example three guns made by Colt that appear
to directly target a Mexican audience, with Spanish nicknames and
themes that resonate in Mexico. One of them, a special edition .38
pistol, is engraved with the face of the Mexican revolutionary hero
Emiliano Zapata and a quote that has been attributed to him: "It is
better to die standing than to live on your knees."
That was the pistol used by a gunman in 2017 to kill the Mexican
investigative journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea, the government
said. A member of a group linked to the powerful Sinaloa cartel was
convicted of her murder last year.
Legal experts questioned the lawsuit's ultimate chances, given that
U.S. federal law guarantees gun manufacturers a strong shield against
being sued by victims of gun violence and their relatives. But some
said the lawsuit could lend political support to the strengthening of
gun regulations in the United States, which are among the loosest in
"It's a bit of a long shot," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the
University of Richmond. "It may just be a way to get the attention of
the federal government and Biden and the White House so they can sit
down and make a deal."
Mexico has strict laws regulating the sale and private use of guns,
and the nation's drug trafficking groups often arm themselves with
American weapons. The Justice Department found that 70 percent of the
firearms submitted for tracing in Mexico between 2014 and 2018
originated in the United States.
"These weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is
living through today," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news
conference on Wednesday.
The government argues in the lawsuit that American gunmakers knowingly
facilitate the sale of arms to criminal groups in Mexico by marketing
their wares in ways that appeal to drug traffickers and refusing to
put responsible restrictions on sales.
Gunmakers sell to any distributor with a license, the suit says,
"despite blazing red flags indicating that a gun dealer is conspiring
with straw purchasers or others to traffic defendants' guns into
For years, Mexico had focused on pressing American officials to crack
down on gun smuggling at the border. Smugglers routinely enlist
Americans with clean criminal records to buy several guns at a time,
often from different shops, and then drive the guns across the border,
With its move on Wednesday, Mexico is expanding the effort to
targeting gun companies themselves. Mexican government officials said
they had been closely watching several recent U.S. cases involving gun
manufacturers, including the lawsuit brought against Remington by
families of the children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in
The families are now considering a $33 million settlement offered by
the company, after legal proceedings that lasted seven years and,
experts say, opened a new path for victims of gun violence to hold
manufacturers accountable. The Sandy Hook case took advantage of an
exemption written into the federal law protecting gunmakers that
allows for litigation against the companies if their marketing
practices violate state or federal laws.
But legal experts cast doubt on whether the Mexican government could
convince the Massachusetts court that gunmakers had knowingly
facilitated the sale of firearms to cartels or had engaged in illegal
marketing. Selling to retailers who may have links to criminal groups
isn't necessarily a crime.
"Even if it's careless, they're not liable," said Tim Lytton, a law
professor at Georgia State University.
And it will be difficult to show that companies that put Mexican icons
on their guns were trying to appeal to cartel hit men, the experts
"It's perfectly legal to have Mexican revolutionary heroes on your
gun," said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA. "There's no law
that prohibits that."
In Washington, the White House noted that President Biden has urged
Congress to repeal the federal statute that shields gunmakers from
lawsuits. "President Biden remains committed to Congressional repeal,"
said Michael Gwin, a White House spokesman. "While that law remains on
the books, gun manufacturers and distributors should be held
accountable -- to the extent legally possible -- when they violate the
American gun laws have clear links to the ebb and flow of violence in
Mexico, experts say. When the U.S. assault weapons ban ended in 2004,
the government noted in the suit, gun makers "exploited the opening to
vastly increase production, particularly of the military-style assault
weapons favored by the drug cartels."
At the same time, killings in Mexico began to rise, reaching record
levels in 2018, when more than 36,000 people were murdered across the
The Mexican government is being represented by lawyers from Hilliard
Shadowen, a Texas law firm specializing in class-action lawsuits, and
by Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence, the gun control organization.
The suit was filed the day after Mr. Ebrard, the foreign minister,
attended a ceremony commemorating the two-year anniversary of the mass
shooting in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store that killed 23 people,
including several Mexican citizens.
Despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's campaign promise to
stanch the bloodshed by tackling the root cause of violence, a
strategy he called "hugs not bullets," the authorities have so far
been unable to make much headway.
Since Mr. Lopez Obrador's landslide victory three years ago, killings
have declined by less than 1 percent. So far this year, more than
16,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, according to government
The companies named in the suit are Smith & Wesson; Barrett Firearms
Manufacturing; Beretta U.S.A.; Beretta Holding; Century International
Arms; Colt's Manufacturing Company; Glock, Inc.; Glock Ges.m.b.H;
Sturm, Ruger & Co.; and the gun supplier Witmer Public Safety Group,
doing business as Interstate Arms.
The companies named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to
requests for comment. But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the
firearm industry association, issued a statement denying accusations
that the gun makers had participated in negligent business practices.
"Mexico's criminal activity is a direct result of the illicit drug
trade, human trafficking and organized crime cartels that plague
Mexico's citizens," said Lawrence G. Keane, the group's general
counsel. He added that the Mexican government "is solely responsible
for enforcing its laws -- including the country's strict gun control
laws -- within their own borders."
An official from Mexico's foreign ministry said that the ultimate goal
of the suit was getting U.S. gun makers to be more responsible in the
sale and marketing of their arms. The suit does not specify how much
compensation the government is seeking, but Foreign Ministry officials
said they had calculated up to $10 billion in potential damages.
Katie Rogers contributed reporting from Washington.
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