Mexico sues U.S. gun companies, alleging 'massive damage' that is 'destabilizing' to society

Key Points
  • The Mexican government on Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit against several U.S. gun manufacturers. 
  • The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers knowingly supply the criminal gun market in Mexico, saying that their military-style guns often end up in the hands of drug cartels. 
  • The Mexican government seeks compensation for the "massive damage" and bloodshed allegedly caused by the defendants' conduct. 
Mexican Soldiers guard a crime scene where a man was killed by gun fire in downtown Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 21, 2019.
Guillermo Arias | AFP | Getty Images

The Mexican government on Wednesday sued several U.S. gun manufacturers, alleging that they contribute to illegal gun trafficking to Mexico. 

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. federal court in Boston. Among the defendants named in the suit are Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta U.S.A. and Colt's Manufacturing Company.

The companies did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment. 

The gun manufacturers are accused of negligent business practices that facilitate smuggling guns to Mexico and cause "massive damage" to the country. The lawsuit alleges that they knowingly supply the criminal gun market in Mexico in particular, saying the companies' military-style guns often end up in the hands of drug cartels and other criminals who harm civilians and government personnel.

Mexico reported historically high homicide rates in recent years, which the lawsuit alleges is driven in part by weapons trafficked from the U.S. in violation of Mexico's gun laws. 

"The consequences in Mexico have been dire. In addition to causing the exponential growth in the homicide rate, Defendants' conduct has had an overall destabilizing effect on Mexican society," the lawsuit alleges.

The Mexican government seeks compensation for the financial toll and bloodshed caused by the defendants' alleged unlawful conduct. Mexico Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a press conference Wednesday that the government is seeking an estimated $10 billion, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard looks on during a news conference to announce that Mexico sued several gun makers in a U.S. federal court, accusing them of negligent business practices that generated illegal arms trafficking which led to deaths in Mexico, in Mexico City, Mexico August 4, 2021.
Luis Cortes | Reuters

"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, into criminal hands in Mexico," the lawsuit said. 

"This flood is not a natural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of the gun business or of U.S. gun laws. It is the foreseeable result of the Defendants' deliberate actions and business practices," it said.

The compensation would cover the costs of deaths and injuries to Mexican police and military personnel, social services to victims of gun crimes and their families, and the bolstering of law enforcement to prevent the trafficking of guns, among other costs, the lawsuit said. 

Laws in Mexico heavily restrict the sale of firearms, and the Mexican government issues fewer than 50 gun permits each year, according to the lawsuit. 

But the defendants undermine these laws, according to the lawsuit. An estimated half million guns are smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico each year, and the defendants produce over 68% of them, the lawsuit said. 

This means that they annually sell more than 340,000 guns that flow across the U.S.-Mexico border to criminals, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit says the defendants fail to regulate their gun distribution practices. They sell guns to any distributor or dealer with a U.S. license, regardless of whether they have a record of illegally selling guns to Mexico, the lawsuit alleges.

The defendants are also accused of marketing their guns in ways that attract transnational criminal organizations, such as Mexican drug cartels. For example, Barrett Firearms markets one of its rifles as a "weapon of war" but sells it to the general public without restrictions, the lawsuit noted. 

The lawsuit alleges the defendants' facilitation of gun trafficking has allowed criminals to attack Mexican military and police and ramp up extortion and kidnapping. 

Ebrard on Wednesday called on the U.S. gun manufacturers to end their business practices that he said contribute to violence and deaths in his country, Reuters reported. He said he believes the U.S. government, which is not mentioned in the lawsuit, is willing to work with Mexico to curb illegal arms trafficking.