Mexico Launches $10-Billion Lawsuit Against U.S. Gun Makers

Taking a page from gun control activists, the Mexican government is now suing several U.S. gun companies in federal court in an attempt to pin the blame for cartel violence on American-made firearms. Smith & Wesson, Glock, Barrett Firearms, Colt, Sturm Ruger, and Beretta are all named in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston on Wednesday, which alleges that the companies are making guns that they know will end up in the hands of drug cartel members south of the border.

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 U.S. homicide rate in 2019 was 5.8 per 100,000.

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 U.S. 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, California, and the $33 million settlement reached by Remington with some of the families whose children were killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, mass school shooting.

The lawsuit doesn’t merely allege that the firearms manufacturers are somehow responsible for guns that are smuggled into Mexico, but (once again borrowing from the arguments raised by gun control activists in recent lawsuits in California) argue that the design and marketing of their products is fueling violence. From the complaint:

Defendants exacerbate their refusal to monitor and discipline their distribution systems by designing military-style assault weapons and marketing them in ways that attract and arm ruthless transnational criminal organizations like the drug cartels.

Defendant Barrett manufactures a .50 caliber sniper rifle that can shoot down helicopters and penetrate lightly armored vehicles and bullet-proof glass. It has become one of the cartels’ guns of choice. Barrett markets its sniper rifle as a weapon of war (“with confirmed hits out to 1800 meters, the Barrett model 82A1 is battle proven”), but nevertheless sells it to the general public without restriction. Barrett knows that its dealers sell these military guns to traffickers, often in bulk, to arm the cartels that use them to battle Mexican military and police who are trying to stop the drug trade.

Defendant Century Arms imports into the U.S. from Romania a version of the AK-47 assault rifle, which it modifies to try to evade U.S. import restrictions on assault weapons, and then sells them into the “civilian” market. Century Arms has long known that its WASR assault rifles are among the cartels’ favorites.

Century Arms and the other Manufacturer Defendants specifically design their semi-automatic rifles for the battlefield rather than for sport, and make them easily convertible into fully automatic machine guns. Defendants are well aware that the drug cartels in fact routinely convert Defendants’ assault rifles to fire automatically, with devastating effect in Mexico.

The Mexican government may have had a case against the federal government for running guns into Mexico as part of Operation Fast & Furious back when Joe Biden was vice president, but the Department of Justice and the ATF aren’t being sued here. Instead, the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is aiming directly at the firearms industry.

Alejandro Celorio, legal advisor for the ministry, told reporters Wednesday that the damage caused by the trafficked guns would be equal to 1.7% to 2% 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.”

Oh yes they are. Just like the gun control groups Brady, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Giffords, the Mexican government is alleging that the very existence of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are in fact a violation of federal law because they’re “readily convertible” to fully-automatic machine guns. One of the goals here, beyond trying to bankrupt the firearms industry, is to place every modern sporting rifle under the auspices of the National Firearms Act.

Another goal of the lawsuit is based more on domestic politics in Mexico; an attempt to distract the public from AMLO’s failure to address the growing cartel violence. As NPR reported a year ago, the Mexican president has been offering a soft-on-cartels approach to the violence, which makes his attempt to blame American gun makers for the cartels’ crimes even more egregious.

Vidal Romero, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, called the president’s tour all show and no substance. He says López Obrador’s administration does not have a strategy to combat the drug cartels.

“They are doing the same as previous governments… but they are saying they are not doing the same as other governments,” he says.

López Obrador has touted the new National Guard, but Romero says it’s still the same Mexican army, doing the same inadequate job.

As he confronts Mexico’s rising murder rate, López Obrador has all but conceded he has no intention of mounting a firm response. He’s made a mantra of the phrase “Hugs, not bullets.”

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, López Obrador seemed unfazed when asked to comment on the show of force in the Jalisco New Generation Cartel video. He said his administration had inherited the drug cartels, but announced no new police offensive against them.

Lopez Obrador has consistently said he’s reluctant to engage in the bloody drug wars of past administrations. This week, he said of the cartels: “We will fight them with intelligence and not force. We will not declare war.”

The Mexican president won’t declare war on the drug cartels, but instead he’s declaring war on U.S. firearms manufacturers. It would be nice if we had an administration that would push back, perhaps with sanctions on the country for failing to stop the cartels from exporting drugs to the United States, but with Biden in the White House its far more likely that the administration will end up rooting for the Mexican government to see success in our federal courts.

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