Caribbean nations support Mexico as it targets U.S.-based gun manufacturers with lawsuit

·4 min read
Pedro Portal/

The Bahamas and several other Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, have banded together to support the government of Mexico in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers in the United States.

Mexico is arguing that gun manufacturers’ marketing and distribution practices are facilitating the trafficking of arms in the country and fueling powerful drug cartels. The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador first sued U.S.-based manufacturers in August in federal court in Massachusetts, seeking to hold them responsible for the arms trafficking it argues is leading to violence in Mexico.

But the 139-page civil lawsuit seeking $10 billion in damages was dismissed in September by a U.S. judge. Mexico has since filed an appeal, which found support this week among several Caribbean countries, also struggling with an uptick in gun-related violence.

The appeal is targeting several well-known firearms manufacturing brands. They include Smith & Wesson Brands, Glock, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Beretta USA, Colt’s Manufacturing, Century International Arms and Witmer Public Safety Group.

Mexico’s lawsuit claims the gun companies “know that their military-style weapons are the cartels’ weapons of choice,” and accuse them of “reckless” and “unlawful” marketing of their weapons. The government cited several instances in which firearms like Ruger rifles were sold to buyers in the U.S. and ended up in Mexico.

In a filing to the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission, where it vowed to fight the lawsuit, Sturm, Ruger & Co, for example, said that it believes the Mexican government’s allegations are without merit.

“The guns used in the commission of violent crimes in The Bahamas are not manufactured here, but instead, are manufactured abroad and illegally trafficked across our borders,” Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said in a statement, announcing his nation’s support for Mexico’s lawsuit. “A critical element of the government’s effort to reduce violent crime in our country is cracking down on the proliferation of firearms, with particular focus on strengthening borders and entry points and on interrupting networks of illegal smugglers.”

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The proliferation of illegal firearms is posing significant challenges for the Caribbean. The issue was raised last month during a summit of the 15-member Caribbean Community, CARICOM, in the Bahamas as leaders discussed the correlation between illegal arms trafficking and violence in their nations, as well as the deepening humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

In Jamaica, where the Constabulary Force regularly announces the seizure of illegal firearms, the country’s national security minister has said that guns are the weapon of choice in homicides and other violent crimes.

During last year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for an international “war on guns” to end the influx of illegal weapons and the murder epidemic in his country.

“In the same way there is concern about illegal drugs on the streets of the rich countries, there must be concern about guns on the streets of developing countries like Jamaica,” Holness said.

In Haiti, where police are outgunned by violent gangs and have difficulty purchasing the weapons they need due to a U.S. arms embargo, a proliferation of illegal high-caliber firearms and ammunition coming mostly from South Florida is fueling unprecedented levels of kidnappings and killings.

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The U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which collaborates with other federal agencies, including Homeland Security Investigations, told the Miami Herald late last year that since 2020 about half of all firearms-export investigations have been concentrated in the Caribbean region — a top smuggling destination fueled by the demand of drug traffickers and huge black-market markups on U.S.-made guns. The other 50% are scattered throughout the world.

Officials with Homeland Security Investigations have acknowledged that smuggling operations out of South Florida and seizures at regional ports have spiked — along with the caliber of weapons.

Davis said The Bahamas filed a “friend of the court” brief in the First U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston in support of Mexico as part of a broader effort to reduce the importation of gun violence in the Caribbean nation, located 30 minutes southeast of Florida by plane.

The country was joined by Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The Latin American and Caribbean Network for Human Security, which is a network of non-governmental organizations and affiliated professionals seeking disarmament in the region, also filed a document in support, Davis said.

In its brief, The Bahamas wrote that “unlawful trafficking of American firearms must be curtailed at its source: the U.S. gun industry. The gun manufacturers and distributors from a single nation must not be permitted to hold hostage the law-abiding citizens of an entire region of the world.”