Mexico sues US gunmakers for role in trafficking and homicides

Mexico is seeking compensation for damages, which are estimated at as much as $10bn, officials said.

Handguns on display at the Smith & Wesson booth at a trade show in Las Vegas. [File: John Locher/AP Photo]

The Mexican government sued United States gun manufacturers and distributors Wednesday in US federal court, arguing that their negligent and illegal commercial practices have unleashed tremendous bloodshed in Mexico.

The unusual lawsuit was filed in US federal court in Boston. Among those being sued are some of the biggest names in guns, including: Smith & Wesson Brands, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Beretta USA, Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, and Glock. Another defendant is Interstate Arms, a Boston-area wholesaler that sells guns from all but one of the named manufacturers to dealers around the US.

The manufacturers did not immediately answer requests for comment.

The Mexican government argues that the companies know that their practices contribute to the trafficking of guns to Mexico and facilitate it. Mexico wants compensation for the havoc the guns have wrought in its country.

A forensic technician taking a photo of a flak jacket at a crime scene following an assassination attempt of Mexico City’s police chief Omar Garcia Harfuch, in the upscale neighbourhood of Lomas de Chapultepec, in Mexico City, Mexico on June 26, 2020 [File: Luis Cortes/Reuters]

The Mexican government “brings this action 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,” the lawsuit said.

The government estimates that 70 percent of the weapons trafficked to Mexico come from the US, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. And that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides were linked to trafficked weapons.

Alejandro Celorio, legal adviser for the ministry, told reporters Wednesday that the damage caused by the trafficked guns would be equal to 1.7 percent to 2 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product. The government will seek at least $10bn in compensation, he said. Mexico’s GDP last year was more than $1.2 trillion.

“We don’t do it to pressure the United States,” Celorio said. “We do it so there aren’t deaths in Mexico.”

Mexico did not seek the advice of the US government on the matter, but advised the US Embassy before filing the lawsuit.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc (NSSF) said it rejected Mexico’s claims that US 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.

The sale of firearms is severely restricted in Mexico and controlled by the defence ministry. But thousands of guns are smuggled into Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels.

“The Mexico-US border is really porous,” said Al Jazeera correspondent John Holman, reporting from Mexico. “When you’re heading into this country – we’ve done it so many times – there’s not a lot of officials to check cars.

“We’ve actually talked with traffickers that say, ‘Yes, we can get guns through without even hiding them that much and it’s relatively easy for us’,” Holman said.

There were more than 36,000 murders in Mexico last year, and the toll has remained stubbornly high despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s pledge to pacify the country. Mexico’s nationwide murder rate in 2020 remained unchanged at 29 per 100,000 inhabitants. By comparison, the US homicide rate in 2019 was 5.8 per 100,000.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, widely seen as a contender in 2024 elections, has made a point in recent years of publicising the issue of US gun trafficking and lax gun controls [File: Mexico’s Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Speaking at a public ceremony on Wednesday Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said his government wanted arms manufacturers to put an immediate end to practices that caused deaths in his country.

He said he viewed the US government, which is not named in the civil lawsuit, as being willing to work with Mexico to stem arms trafficking.

Ebrard, widely seen as a presidential contender in 2024, has made a point in recent years of publicising the issue of US gun trafficking and lax gun controls.

On Tuesday, Ebrard traveled to El Paso, Texas, for a ceremony commemorating the second anniversary of the killing of 22 people at a Walmart, where the shooter was accused of deliberately targeting Mexicans.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies