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Mexico Brings Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Manufacturers, Blaming Them for Worsening Cartel Violence


Convention goers look at weapons at the Smith and Wesson booth April 11, 2015 at the 2015 NRA Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Mexican government filed a 130-page lawsuit in U.S. federal court Wednesday seeking to hold major gun manufacturers liable for selling guns that exacerbate cartel violence in Mexico.

The lengthy complaint casts gun manufacturers and resellers as menaces teamed up with Mexican drug cartels to wreak violent havoc on Mexican citizens; the defendants are well-known firearms companies including Smith & Wesson, Barrett, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger.

Plaintiffs allege these companies are to blame for violence across the border:

Almost all guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico—70% to 90% of them—were trafficked from the U.S. The Defendants include the six U.S.-based manufacturers whose guns are most often recovered in Mexico—Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger. Another manufacturer defendant is Barrett, whose .50 caliber sniper rifle is a weapon of war prized by the drug cartels. The remaining defendant—Interstate Arms—is a Boston-area wholesaler through which all but one of the defendant manufacturers sell their guns for re-sale to gun dealers throughout the U.S.

The plaintiffs say that there have been a number of examples of Barrett .50 caliber snipers being used to wound or kill members of the Mexican military.

Furthermore, it isn’t just that the guns used by cartels were manufactured by these defendant companies, but also that the cartels are the companies’ intended target market, the complaint alleges:

Defendants design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico. Defendants use reckless and corrupt gun dealers and dangerous and illegal sales practices that the cartels rely on to get their guns. Defendants design these guns
to be easily modified to fire automatically and to be readily transferable on the criminal market in Mexico. Defendants know how to make and sell their guns to prevent this illegal trade;

U.S. gun companies, Mexico asserts, have implemented no practices whatsoever to limit sales to cartels. Rather, it says, “Defendants use [a] head-in-the-sand approach to deny responsibility while knowingly profiting from the criminal trade.”

The complaint continues, providing statistics of the hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens who fled their homes in an attempt to escape the drug cartels. Moreover, it argues, that problem is one with effects far beyond Mexico itself.

“[T]he net effect of the drug violence in Mexico,” the Mexican government began quoting a study, “has been to increase migration to the United States.”

Mexico was clear to acknowledge that crime itself is not caused by the American gun industry, but rather, that it is simply made more violent when coupled with an endless supply of firearms.

“Were it not for Defendants’ wrongful conduct,” it alleges, “there would be far fewer guns in Mexico, and far fewer guns in the hands of the cartels. There might still be snakes—in the form of criminal organizations—but they would have far less venom to inflict harm.”

To underscore the human toll of cartel violence, several pages of Mexico’s complaint subtitled “Not statistics” are devoted to the heartbreaking stories of 30 individual victims of gun violence. The lawsuit alleges negligence, gross negligence, unjust enrichment, and violation of consumer protection laws. In addition to compensatory and punitive monetary damages, Mexico also asks for court orders that would remediate the harms caused by gun violence. Its request for relief includes the following suggestions for the court:

1. Abate and remedy the public nuisance they have created in Mexico;
2. Create and implement standards sufficient to reasonably monitor and discipline their distribution systems;
3. Incorporate all reasonably available safety mechanisms into their guns, including devices to prevent use of those guns by unauthorized users; and
4. Fund studies, programs, advertising campaigns, and other events focused on preventing unlawful trafficking of guns;

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, issued a statement through its Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane calling Mexico’s lawsuit “baseless,” and arguing, “[t]he Mexican government is responsible for the rampant crime and corruption within their own borders.”

“Rather than seeking to scapegoat law-abiding American businesses,” Keane continued, “Mexican authorities must focus their efforts on bringing the cartels to justice.” Noting that the Mexican government “receives considerable aid from U.S. taxpayers,” Keane took the position that Mexico is “solely responsible” for enforcing its own laws, and that U.S. gun manufacturers are not to blame for the problem of drug cartels.

Attorneys representing the Mexican government in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to request for comment.

[image via Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos