Editorial: Good for Mexico for suing U.S. gun makers

A line of customers outside a gun store in Culver City
A line at the Martin B. Retting gun store in Culver City extends out the door and around the corner on a Sunday in 2020.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The unlawful traffic across the southern U.S. border is not one-way, a fact driven home by the federal lawsuit filed this month by the Mexican government against a host of U.S. gun manufacturers and distributors. It’s a somewhat brazen — and welcome — move.

The U.S. is the indirect armament supplier for deadly drug wars in Mexico and the gangsters of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The American appetite for illicit narcotics draws drugs northward; the “iron river” of weapons flows south; Mexican and Central American society is torn apart by terror and murder; desperate refugees of gang violence come north. Traffic both ways is heavy. So is the death toll.

Mexico vs. Smith and Wesson was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Defendants include Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Interstate Arms.


Predictably, the small arms industry responded to the suit with shock, derision and denial. Gun advocates insisted that the Mexican gangsters use guns made in China or India, not here. And besides, they argue, a lawsuit is a waste of time and money, and is doomed to failure. From their reaction you’d think Mexico had demanded something truly crazy, like, say, a border wall.

In fact, a majority of guns in Mexico can be traced to U.S. distributors — which import and resell foreign-made weapons — and to U.S. manufacturers.

The sales are rarely direct, because gun ownership in Mexico, although not uncommon, is sharply restricted. The suit alleges that sales take place in the U.S. for illicit shipment to Mexico. The key allegation is that the gun makers not only know their weapons will end up south of the border but also create them specifically for that market. One often-cited example is a Colt .38 Super pistol engraved with a picture of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The gun was used in 2017 to murder the investigative journalist Miroslava Breach.

The Mexican Foreign Secretariat alleges that in 2019, 17,000 murders were a result of weapons illegally imported into the country from the U.S.

Congress has failed to take action to stem the flow of death southward from the U.S. It hasn’t imposed background checks, blocked straw buyers from purchasing guns for traffickers or cracked down on makers of untraceable gun assembly kits, from which buyers can assemble “ghost guns.”

Any of those moves could help stem violence here at home, as well as in Mexico. For example, a ghost gun was reportedly used to seriously wound two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in an attack last year. Without legislation from Congress, lawsuits may be the only way to go. Last week, the deputies sued Polymer80 Inc. of Nevada for making the gun parts.


Americans responded to COVID-19 lockdowns last year by lining up at gun stores. Manufacturers, distributors and sellers did well. The murder rate jumped to the highest level seen in the U.S. in more than two decades, even without the spate of mass shootings that occur in a more typical year.

So Mexico just may be on to something with its lawsuit.

Cigarette manufacturers and merchants knew what they were doing when they sold their highly addictive and cancer-causing products in the U.S. and around the world. Liability suits, calling for them to pay the costs of the damage and death their products caused, changed the industry’s practices and Americans’ habits, and drove down the number of deaths.

Gun makers claim to not be subject to the same kinds of pressures due to the 2nd Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

Does it also protect against knowingly making and selling guns to be illegally trafficked across the border? Perhaps we’ll find out.