Lawsuit is step in the right direction, but more needed, say experts

Press release (español aquí)

August 4, 2021 – The Mexican government filed suit in federal court today against a dozen U.S. gun manufacturers whose weapons have been used in thousands of homicides and other violent crimes in Mexico against both Mexicans and migrants. 

The companies being sued for negligent marketing include many of the most prominent gun makers in the United States, including Colt, Sturm Ruger, Glock, and Beretta. Other companies named in the suit include Barrett – makers of a .50 caliber sniper rifle in Tennessee – and Century Arms – a Vermont-based company that imports, produces and exports assault rifles, including the weapon used in the massacre in El Paso, Texas two years ago this week. 

“The Mexican government’s legal action is a positive and important step, making gun production companies responsible for distributing military-grade guns to businesses with bad records of selling guns to criminals or others involved in illegal trafficking,” said Marco Castillo, Co-director of Global Exchange. More than 70% of all firearms recovered and traced from crime scenes in Mexico came from the United States, according to official U.S. data.   

8,535 firearms produced by Colt, based in Hartford, CT, including 2,317 assault rifles, have been recovered by the Mexican army since 2010. 3,881 firearms produced by Smith & Wesson, based in Massachusetts, have been recovered in Mexico during the same period. 338 fifty-caliber rifles produced by Barrett Firearms, which can shoot down helicopters and fire more than a mile, have been recovered in Mexico since 2010. (See this interactive data on recovered firearms on a beta platform.)

At the same time, the violence crisis in Mexico goes beyond illegal trafficking. Police and military officers receive legally exported U.S. weapons that have been used to commit human rights violations and crimes, including the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, the massacre of 19 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas earlier this year, and many more documented tragedies in Mexico.

The U.S. Congress is set to review a proposed US$5.5 million sale of thousands of fully automatic rifles to the Mexican Navy and Marines, which have been implicated in dozens of forced disappearances in the border city of Nuevo Laredo in 2018. The rifles are produced by Sig Sauer, a German-owned company which produces and exports military rifles in New Hampshire, not named in the Mexican government’s lawsuit.

“Without civilian oversight of Mexico’s gun registry and a civilian counterpart to the Mexican army, the movement of guns in Mexico will continue to be a black box,” according to Global Exchange’s Marco Castillo. “The Army has complete control over information on gun imports, national production and sales to police and private individuals, as well as over missing and stolen firearms. This lack of transparency is unsafe and worrisome, since many crimes are committed with guns stolen from the military”. 

As an example of the importance of transparency in gun exports, a recent study by the Mexican Commission of Human Rights for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Center for Ecumenical Studies, and Stop US Arms to Mexico found that Mexican armed forces and state police have lost together 16,685 arms between 2006 and 2019. See this interactive website for maps and data on firearms sold to police, illicit firearms, and lost / stolen firearms.

We congratulate the Mexican government for this action. We also call on both the Mexican and U.S. governments to carry out a regional strategy to address the crisis of cross-border gun transfers and violence, which has caused so much pain and has been avoided for so long. 

More information:
Marco Castillo: 646-826-9834
John Lindsay-Poland: 510-282-8983