The Mexican government has taken legal action against US arms manufacturers in an unprecedented attempt to stop the flow of weapons across the border, where US-made weapons are routinely used in cartel battles, terrorist attacks against civilians and increasingly to challenge the state itself.
The Mexican government is suing six arms manufacturers in a Massachusetts court, alleging negligence in not controlling their distributors and that the illegal market in Mexico “has been their economic lifeblood.”
In announcing the lawsuit Wednesday, Chancellor Marcelo Ebrard alleged that the units of Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Glock and Sturm, Ruger have adapted to the tastes and needs of the Mexican drug cartels and depend on illegal Mexican sales to boost demand. bottom lines.
“We are going to litigate in all seriousness and we are going to win the trial and we are going to drastically reduce the illegal arms trade to Mexico, which cannot go unpunished with respect to those who produce, promote and encourage this traffic. from the United States, ”said Ebrard.
“Companies must immediately stop negligent practices, which cause damage in Mexico and cause deaths in Mexico.”
Mexico is seeking up to $ 10 billion in damages, as well as better gun safety features and stricter controls on sales.
Mexican officials said there was legal precedent for the lawsuit, including a recent offer by Remington to pay nearly $ 33 million to families to settle lawsuits alleging that firearms trading contributed to the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut. where 26 people died.
None of the companies named in the lawsuit gave an immediate public response.
Mexico has been plagued with violence for the past 15 years since then-President Felipe Calderón deployed troops to wage a militarized “war on drugs”. Much of the violence has been perpetrated with guns originally sold in the United States and smuggled into Mexico, according to analyzes of firearms recovered from the crime scene.
A study by the Mexican government found that 2.5 million guns had been smuggled into the country over the past 10 years, including military-grade weapons such as 50-caliber Barrett rifles capable of shooting down helicopters.
Organized crime factions have grown bolder as they engage rivals in battles for territory and even challenge security forces in pitched battles. In October 2019, cartel gunmen with machine guns and armored trucks invaded the city of Culiacán, forcing the military to release Ovidio Guzmán, son of the jailed cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
“American weapons are essential for Mexican drug cartels,” said Falko Ernst, senior analyst for Mexico at International Crisis Group. A successful lawsuit and the US arms cessation “would make a profound dent, at least in the short and medium term,” Ernst said.
“But the question is whether alternative supply lines would eventually evolve if American weapons were not available,” he said, pointing to the staggering number of weapons “lost” by police.
At least on paper, Mexico has strict gun control laws and legal guns can only be purchased from a single store on a military base in Mexico City.
The Mexican government has long demanded action from the United States to stop guns at the border. Calderón defended his case in Congress to no avail. Ebrard raised the possibility of suing the gun manufacturers after the August 2019 massacre at a Walmart store in El Paso, in which the attacker targeted Mexicans.
The announcement of the lawsuit came a day after the second anniversary of the crime.
“Given the total inaction of the US government. [on guns,] It’s a reasonable move, ”said Tom Long, professor of international relations at the University of Warwick. “We have a decade and a half of agency ‘cooperation’ that, at best, bites into the margins.”
Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, a Mexican criminal investigator at Loyola University in Chicago, said: “The initiative and the timing are politically charged. It is to see if Mexico has more promises of change through this lawsuit than it has obtained through diplomatic / bilateral efforts to pressure the United States government to change its gun control policies. “
The lawsuit comes as Mexico suffers spasms of violence and drug cartels are increasingly blatant in their battles with rivals and security forces alike.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised a “hugs, not bullets” security policy while campaigning for office, but has largely turned to the military to calm the country. Yet Mexico’s murder rate has remained stubbornly high, at 29 per 100,000, slightly different from when he took office in December 2018.