Mexico Sues U.S. Gun Manufactures Over Illegal Trafficking

Social Justice Policy Brief # 23 | By: Zack Huffman | August 19, 2021

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Policy Summary

The government of Mexico is taking several US. gun companies to federal court, claiming that they have negligently allowed illegal gun trafficking to flood Mexico with firearms.

The lawsuit lists seven Massachusetts-based gun manufactures as well as a wholesale firearm distributor as defendants, and demands millions of dollars in reparations, and for the defendant companies to implement a strong monitoring system to track trafficked guns.

Before any trial starts, Mexico will have to establish that it has proper standing to sue in a US. court, but if they fail at that, the pretrial process will allow the country to possibly expose negligent practices of the defendant companies as well as the overall problem of gun trafficking into Mexico from the United States.

Policy Analysis

From 2007 to 2012, the number of guns manufactured in the United States, more than doubled, according to data from Mexico’s lawsuit. At the same time, homicides in Mexico also spiked at the same rate, indicating a corollary between the two.

A 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office found that from 2014 to 2018, 70% of all illegal guns seized by Mexican federal authorities were originally from the United States. The report noted that proper data was lacking, because guns seized by state and local authorities in Mexico were not submitted to the US. for tracing.

The report listed recent efforts from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, ICE and the State Department to crack down on gun trafficking, but noted that data from those efforts was lacking.

“However, none of the agencies have fully developed performance measures for their efforts to disrupt firearms trafficking to Mexico, and thus they have limited ability to assess progress,” said the 56-page report.


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“Every year, about a half million guns — many of them semiautomatic assault rifles — are illegally trafficked from the United States into Mexico. In 2019, those guns were used to murder 17,000 people in our country — that’s 46 funerals every day for a year, an unendurable tragedy for many heartbroken families,” wrote Alejandro Celorio Alcantara of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an August 14 op-ed.

Celorio Alcantara also argued against the concept of firearms simply being tools as an oversimplification.

“Hammers are not evil in themselves,” he wrote. “But we would all rightly condemn a hardware store that continued to sell heavy-duty hammers to customers with a known track record of using them to kill and create mayhem.”

Mexico’s government has tight regulations that make it difficult for anyone to legally obtain a gun, according to the 139-page lawsuit. The country only has one legal gun store, and it issues fewer than 50 gun permits a year.

The Mexican government estimates that about half a million guns are illegally trafficked into the country from the United States and the named defendants account for about 68% of those illegal guns.

The lawsuit targets those companies’ distribution systems and what the lawsuit describes as a total lack of monitoring. It also alleges that the manufacturers deliberately design and market weapons that are desirable to Mexican cartels, including Barrett’s sniper rifle or Colt’s “El Jefe,” “El Grito,” and “Emiliano Zapata 1911” editions of .38-caliber pistols.

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The Supreme Court ruled that a foreign nation can pursue legal action against an American individual or company about 150 years ago. The case, known as “The Sapphire,” involved France attempting to retrieve damages after a boat collision with a private American ship.

Mexico’s government is seeking a court order mandating that gun manufacturers “abate and remedy the public nuisance they have created in Mexico.”

Specifically, Mexico wants these companies to create a stronger system for monitoring the distribution of their guns, incorporate all available safety features into their firearms, and fund studies, programs and advertising campaigns that address unlawful trafficking.

The National Shooting Sport Foundation, which is a gun industry advocacy group, criticized the lawsuit as unfairly targeting American businesses.

“Mexico’s criminal activity is a direct result of the illicit drug trade, human trafficking and organized crime cartels that plague Mexico’s citizens,” said NSSF Senior Vice President Lawrence Keane in a release statement. “It is these cartels that criminally misuse firearms illegally imported into Mexico or stolen from the Mexican military and law enforcement. Rather than seeking to scapegoat law-abiding American businesses, Mexican authorities must focus their efforts on bringing the cartels to justice.”

Regardless of Mexico’s success in court, the legal action could provide an opportunity to publicly discuss the problem of gun trafficking outside of the United States.

Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, of the Center for US.-Mexican Studies UC San Diego, told NPR that she believed the lawsuit was an effort to respond to US. concerns over drug trafficking with the counter point that Mexico is suffering from gun trafficking.

Thus far, the case does not include any emergency motions so new developments are likely to come slowly. Much of the useful information that may come to light through this case will likely come during the pretrial, when evidence, reports, and other pieces of vital information are submitted. Even without a positive verdict for Mexico, that information is likely to be the most valuable thing to come out of it this case – assuming it can hold the public’s interest that long.

Engagement Resources​

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The Government Accountability Office’s report on gun trafficking into Mexico

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Washington Post:

Op-ed explaining the lawsuit by Alejandro Celorio Alcantara of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs



Summary of The Sapphire case

The National Shooting Sport Foundation

NSSF Responds to Mexico’s Civil Lawsuit Against US Firearm Manufacturers

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Mexico’s Suit Against US Gun Companies May Seek More Than A Court Win

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