MEXICO CITY — In a first, the Mexican government on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in the United States against 11 gun manufacturers and suppliers, accusing them of negligently facilitating the flow of weapons to powerful drug cartels and enabling tremendous bloodshed in Mexico.
The complaint, filed in a federal court in Massachusetts, accuses companies including Smith & Wesson and Colt of designing, marketing, distributing, and selling guns “in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico.”
“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,” the lawsuit reads. The flood of weaponry is “the foreseeable result of the defendants’ deliberate actions and business practices.”
Mexican officials have long blamed gun manufacturers and lax American gun regulations for playing a role in the country’s raging violence. But officials said this is the first time a national government has filed suit against gun companies in the United States.
Mexico has strict laws regulating the sale and private use of guns, and the nation’s drug trafficking groups often arm themselves with weapons smuggled across the border. The Justice Department found that 70 percent of the firearms submitted for tracing in Mexico between 2014 and 2018 originated in the United States.
“These weapons are intimately linked to the violence that Mexico is living through today,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The Mexican government said in the lawsuit that U.S. gun laws have a direct effect on violence in Mexico. When the U.S. assault weapons ban ended in 2004, the government said, gun makers “exploited the opening to vastly increase production, particularly of the military-style assault weapons favored by the drug cartels.”
At the same time, killings in Mexico began to rise, reaching record levels in 2018, when more than 36,000 people were killed across the country.
The suit was filed the day after Mr. Ebrard attended a ceremony commemorating the 23 people killed by a gunman in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store in 2019, including several Mexican citizens.
Despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s campaign promise that year to stanch the bloodshed by tackling the root cause of violence, a strategy he called “hugs not bullets,” the authorities have so far been unable to blunt the carnage.
Since Mr. López Obrador’s landslide victory three years ago, killings have dropped less than 1 percent. So far this year, more than 16,000 people have been killed in Mexico, according to government figures.
It isn’t clear what chance the Mexican government has of prevailing in its lawsuit. A 2005 U.S. federal statute gave gun manufacturers far-reaching immunity from being sued by victims of gun violence and their relatives. But President Biden has repeatedly expressed support for repealing the statute.
Officials from Mexico’s foreign ministry said that the ultimate goal of the suit was getting U.S. gun makers to be more responsible in the sale and marketing of their arms. The suit does not specify how much compensation the government is seeking, but Foreign Ministry officials said they had calculated up to $10 billion in potential damages.
The companies named in the suit are Smith & Wesson; Barrett Firearms Manufacturing; Beretta U.S.A.; Beretta Holding; Century International Arms; Colt’s Manufacturing Company; Glock, Inc.; Glock Ges.m.b.H; Sturm, Ruger & Co.; and Witmer Public Safety Group and Interstate Arms, both gun suppliers.