U.S. gun shops facilitate illegal purchases in Mexico

Weapons stores in the U.S. facilitate illegal purchases in Mexico. Arms manufacturing companies may be indirect accomplices of the crime.

U.S. gun shops facilitate illegal purchases in Mexico
Rifle. Image by Adam Wade from Pixabay

The Mexican government accused that U.S. arms manufacturing companies could be considered indirect accomplices of organized crime, as they are aware that a percentage of their products are part of the chain of illicit arms trafficking to our country and do not modify their marketing policies.

In the lawsuit filed in the Massachusetts Court, to which access was obtained, the Mexican government argued that at least eight companies have facilitated the use by organized crime of front names, shell companies, and triangulations to simulate legal purchases of weapons arriving in Mexico. These companies know that their weapons are being sold within the framework of U.S. legality to be trafficked illicitly into Mexico and do nothing to prevent it.

"By designing, distributing, selling, and marketing highly dangerous products, the defendants assumed a duty to ensure that their weapons are sold lawfully and carefully, in their entirety, in compliance with applicable laws and not to circumvent those laws through their business practices," the lawsuit states.

"Part of the duty the defendants assumed was to carefully sell and distribute their guns. This duty is breached when they sell guns without standards, conditions or monitoring, through intermediate dealers and distributors, some of whom, the defendants know sell guns recklessly or illegally."

What the damage amounts to

"It is estimated that the damage suffered due to the negligence of the companies amounts to 5% or 6% of the [gross domestic product] GDP. We point this out because as part of the strategy, the quantification of damages will be done in the litigation. We have a relationship with all the government agencies in Mexico to know how many helicopters have fallen, how much has been spent on medicines to treat injuries, funeral expenses, and direct [and] indirect damages. We could even quantify the losses in tax revenue from tourism."

The litigation has an authorized budget of $1 million a year, of which $100,000 has been spent so far.

"We are suing the companies that represent around 62% of the weapons that have been found in Mexico of illicit origin, between 70% and 90% of the weapons in Mexico come from the United States and of that number, 62% corresponds to these gun shops," he said. "It is evident, from the videos that organized crime presents on internet platforms, government reports, movies, series, that their weapons are in Mexico, and knowing that their weapons are in Mexico they do nothing to prevent it. They must foresee that".

Judge asked to dismiss the case

To defend themselves, the gun shops are asking the judge to dismiss the case, as they believe Mexico does not have the right to sue them. On April 12, a hearing was held in which the judge questioned Mexico about the scope of its lawsuit, warning that it could set a precedent for other countries to sue U.S. gun companies for damages caused by their products abroad.

"U.S. courts are very careful not to intervene in situations that impact the country's foreign relations, that correspond solely to the Executive or that expose their companies to frivolous lawsuits. That is why we anticipated this and were very strict in saying that this lawsuit is specific to the characteristics of Mexico. The damage we suffer is specific and we are accusing negligence, not illicit trafficking, but negligence in how they trade their weapons," Celorio said.

These specifics refer to Mexico's geographic location to the United States and the three decades of increase in illicit arms trafficking, among others. The lawsuit stated that these companies produce more than 68% of the weapons circulating in U.S. trafficking centers, which means that they sell more than 340,000 units per year, which go from their plants in Massachusetts and other states to criminals south of the border.

According to the legal counsel, it is expected that by the end of May the judge will decide whether or not to accept the lawsuit. For this, he has arguments from the Mexican government and the gun companies, as well as the opinion of 14 prosecutors and 27 attorneys general in favor of the lawsuit.

What they are obliged to do

The document added that gun shops are obliged to guarantee that their distributors and dealers will not recklessly or illicitly supply the Mexican criminal market.

In an interview, Alejandro Celorio, legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE), said that since the United States eliminated the ban on the sale of assault weapons in its territory in 2004, gun shops increased their production, distribution, and marketing, while in the following four years, the illegal possession of weapons in Mexico multiplied and the homicide rate increased 45%, going from 9,324 to 13,627 in 2008.

Since then, the numbers have not decreased. On the contrary, a study by the National Information Center (CNI), which Mexico will present as evidence in the trial, indicates that since 2015, intentional homicides committed with firearms increased from 9 thousand 571 to 23 thousand 121 in 2021, maintaining an annual trend that does not decrease from 13 thousand:

"It is the first time that a foreign government sues these companies. It is the first time that in the judicial record there is talk of the responsibility of the companies in the illicit trafficking of arms and, as is dynamic in the courts, what the parties say is taken as true and what we point out must be taken as true," Celorio explained.

Weapons traceability

To bolster the arguments, it was established that gun shops can trace their weapons, from the time they were manufactured until they get into the hands of organized crime.

"All weapons have a serial number. Each weapon in Mexico is traced with a program called E-Trace, which is managed by the Attorney General's Office and the ATF in the United States. With that number we can know when it was manufactured, where it was sold, the distribution route, point of sale, and to whom it was sold," Celorio said.

"We have the route within the United States and it connects to the place of the illicit. That is the most important argument of negligence because that information is not public, the arms industry managed to pass an amendment that obliges ATF not to disclose it, but if it were available to the public, we could see the route of thousands of weapons," he explained. Since it is ATF information, only a judge can compel the release of such data.

Negligence by U.S. arms manufacturers results in huge costs for Mexico

One of the main reasons why the levels of violence in Mexico have increased consistently since the beginning of the century, if measured in terms of homicides, is the availability of weapons that come mainly from the United States

It is based on something new: the negligence of the companies that produce weapons designed for use, especially by those linked to drug trafficking, the foreign minister stressed. The companies have acted negligently and that causes enormous costs in Mexico, especially in human lives.

In the U.S. there have been no measures to restrict the arms trade. Something had to be done because the manufacturing companies are co-responsible for the violence we suffer in the country. Now, there will be a response from the industry and then Mexico will have another time to present additional elements to that response.

There are other positive results in the litigation, such as the fight against illicit trafficking and the immorality of companies that benefit economically from the manufacture, distribution, and sale of arms, at the cost of death, injuries, and the feeling of insecurity that Mexicans experience.

This is a civil lawsuit in which the Mexican government argues that it has suffered direct and indirect damages due to the negligent and unlawful commercial practices of various companies, such as Barrett.

The companies must know who buys their products, that their buyers are loan sharks or people with criminal records, that they acquire several high-powered weapons in the same transaction and other issues that result in a direct indication of civil liability.

The lawsuit has a solid foundation and defends Mexico's legal dignity. It was stated that 70 percent of the weapons entering the country illegally are of U.S. origin, manufactured by the companies sued, and enter through the border cities: San Diego-Tijuana, El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo, McAllen-Reynosa, and Brownsville-Matamoros.

The systemic impacts of arms trafficking that affect national objectives are evident: loss of human lives, decrease in economic sectors, such as tourism, due to insecurity, the extortion suffered by farmers to work their land, threats from criminal groups to businessmen, or theft of merchandise. With a favorable judicial ruling, a precedent will be set and the beginning of a new era of pacification in Mexico will be fostered.

The lawsuit, solidly supported, develops the concept of "willful blindness" that allows companies not to follow up on what they should do according to the regulations. The defendants facilitate illicit trafficking because they maximize their sales and profits. Every year more than half a million weapons are illegally trafficked into our country and used in illicit activities against the civilian population and public forces, which generates damage of up to 1.5 percent of Mexico's GDP, medical care costs, and loss of tourism, trade, among other items.