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Mexico sues US gun manufacturers over arms trafficking toll

Handguns were displayed at a trade show in Las Vegas. In its suit against US gun manufacturers and distributors, the Mexican government is arguing that their commercial practices have unleashed tremendous bloodshed in Mexico.
Handguns were displayed at a trade show in Las Vegas. In its suit against US gun manufacturers and distributors, the Mexican government is arguing that their commercial practices have unleashed tremendous bloodshed in Mexico.John Locher/Associated Press

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

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

The manufacturers did not immediately answer requests for comment.

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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.

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 United States, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. And that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides were linked to trafficked weapons.

Alejandro Celorio, legal advisor 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 $10 billion 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.”

Ebrard said the lawsuit was another piece of the government’s efforts against guns. “The priority is that we reduce homicides,” he said. “We aren’t looking to change American laws.”

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

Steve Shadowen, the lead attorney representing Mexico, said that in the early 2000s about 30 US cities brought similar litigation against gun manufacturers arguing that they should be responsible for increased police, hospitalization, and other costs associated with gun violence.

As some cities started winning, gun manufacturers went to Congress and got an immunity statute for the manufacturers. Shadowen said he believes that immunity doesn’t apply when the injury occurs outside the United States.

“The merits of the case are strongly in our favor and then we have to get around this immunity statute which we think we’re going to win,’’ he said. ‘’That statute just simply doesn’t apply. It only applies when you’re in the United States.”

He said he believes it is the first time a foreign government has sued the gun manufacturers.

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

There were more than 36,000 murders in Mexico last year, and the toll has remained stubbornly high despite President Andrés Manuel López 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.

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In August 2019, a gunmen killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart, including some Mexican citizens. At that time, Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the government would explore its legal options. The government said Wednesday that recent rulings in US courts contributed to its decision to file the lawsuit.

It cited a decision in California allowing a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson to move forward, a lawsuit filed last week against Century Arms related to a 2019 shooting in Gilroy, Calif., and the $33 million settlement reached by Remington with some of the families whose children were killed in the Newtown, Conn., mass school shooting.