Mexico sues Smith & Wesson, claims gunmaker, others fuel cartel violence

Smith & Wesson guns are seen at the 2019 NRA convention exhibits at the Indiana Convention Center, Friday, April 26, 2019. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar

Jim Kinney

BOSTON — The Mexican government sued American gunmakers and distributors, including Smith & Wesson of Springfield and Interstate Arms, a distributor in Billerica, saying the U.S.-made guns fuel drug cartel violence

“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,” lawyers for Mexico said in court papers filed Wednesday at U.S. District Court in Boston. “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 practice.”

Mexico demands that the defendants change their business practices incorporate all reasonably available safety mechanisms into their guns, including devices to prevent use of those guns by unauthorized users, the smart-gun technology Smith & Wesson agreed to create more then 20 years ago then abandoned in the face of an industry backlash.

Mexico is represented by, among others, lawyer Jonathan E. Lowy, vice president, legal and chief counsel at Brady United Against Gun Violence— an advocacy organization founded by Jim and Sarah Brady after White House press secretary Jim Brady was wounded in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The other defendants are all manufacturers: 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 lawsuit alleges.

The suit pulls no punches:

“Defendants’ willfully blind, standardless distribution practices aid and abet the killing and maiming of children, judges, journalists, police, and ordinary citizens throughout Mexico. Defendants’ unlawful conduct has substantially reduced the life expectancy of Mexican citizens and cost the Government billions of dollars a year. And armed with Defendants’ guns, the cartels have aggressively marketed drugs such as fentanyl, destroying and ending lives in and outside of Mexico, including in the U.S. Defendants’ guns are the venom in the snakes that are the drug cartels; without those guns, they could be controlled and stopped.”

Mexico says its gun laws are strict: “The Government has strong domestic laws that make it virtually impossible for criminals to lawfully obtain guns in Mexico. Mexico has one gun store in the entire nation and issues fewer than 50 gun permits per year.”

In one particular case, Mexican authorities called out a Texas gun shop for selling rifles, including assault rifles made in Springfield by Smith & Wesson. One of the trafficked guns was reportedly used in the “Acapulco massacre” in 2006, when more than a dozen armed assailants stormed two offices of the state attorney general and executed four police officers and three secretaries, according to secretaries.

The suit is illustrated with photos of bullet-riddled vehicles parked on Mexican streets.

Mexian authorities rely on U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowing for “trans-national torts”

“Just as Defendants may not dump toxic waste or other pollutants to poison Mexicans across the border, they may not send their weapons of war into the hands of the cartels, causing repeated and grievous harm, and then claim immunity from accountability,” the lawsuit says.

A federal court in Massachusetts is the right venue to hear the case, the Mexican government said.

“Defendant Smith & Wesson, for example, makes decisions in Massachusetts to design, market, and distribute its guns in the reckless, dangerous ways that supply traffickers and cartels. Smith & Wesson’s decisions to renege on the reforms to which it had agreed with the U.S. government, and to use corrupt dealers and high-risk business practices that it knows arm the cartels, all occur in the U.S.,” the lawsuit reads. ”This Court can stop the flow of guns into Mexico at its source in Massachusetts by requiring Smith & Wesson to stop actively facilitating the criminal gun trade into Mexico. The same is true for the other Defendants.”

Mexico’s lawyers also call out Smith & Wesson for reneging, their words, on a comprehensive firearms safety agreement the company’s former management reached in 2000 with the Clinton administration. Smith & Wesson later backed down under intense backlash from the National Rifle Administration. The company was sold and new management sided with the NRA and abandoned the effort to build “smart guns,” those that could only be fired by the owner.

“Defendants are fully aware that these safety features could, and would, prevent shootings that cause injury and death. This includes preventing instances where weapons are stolen by thieves or are sold in the criminal market in Mexico. Smith & Wesson’s chief executive officer at the time of the 2000 Agreement admitted that these safety measures could save lives,” it said.

Smith & Wesson didn’t return calls for comment.

The company, which entered into the agreement with Clinton in order to stop lawsuits, now finds itself facing a new wave of litigation.

Victims in a California synagogue shooting where the attacker used a Smith & Wesson rifle won a victory and their suit can move forward.

Smith & Wesson is also getting sued by mass shooting victims in Canada and by the state of New Jersey over its marketing practices which New Jersey says don’t reflect New Jersey’s gun laws.

Mexico also called out Smith & Wesson’s marketing, especially its use of slogans like “kick brass” as invitations to violence.

“The link between Defendants’ design, distribution, and marketing practices and the destruction wrought in Mexico is undeniable,” Mexican authorities said. “During the period 1999 to 2004 — when Defendants were prohibited from selling assault weapons because they were banned in the U.S. — gun production in the U.S. declined appreciably. With the ban’s expiration in 2004, Defendants exploited the opening to vastly increase production, particularly of the military-style assault weapons favored by the drug cartels.”

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