Long under pressure to curb drug smuggling, Mexico is seeking to hold the United States partly responsibile for rampant cartel-related violence by suing US-based gunmakers over illegal firearms trafficking.
The lawsuit filed in a Boston court is part of the Latin American nation's efforts to put the issue of cross-border weapons flows at the heart of the diplomatic conversation between the neighbors, experts say.
"Mexico is really managing to say that this is a bilateral problem," said Cecilia Farfan, an expert on organized crime and US-Mexico security cooperation at the University of California, San Diego.
"In the same way that the United States is saying, 'I need you to do something about illegal drug trafficking,' Mexico is saying, 'I need you to do something about guns,'" she said.
The suit filed in early August accuses major gunmakers including Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Colt, Glock, Century Arms, Ruger and Barrett over firearms trafficking that Mexico blames for fueling cartel-related bloodshed.
Between 70 and 90 percent of all weapons recovered from crime scenes in Mexico were smuggled in from the United States, Mexico's foreign ministry says.
They include Barrett semi-automatic rifles, Smith & Wesson pistols and Ruger and Colt rifles recovered after an attack on Mexico City police chief Omar Garcia Harfuch in June 2020, according to the lawsuit.
- 'Symbolic and political' -
The litigation seeks compensation for the damage caused by the firms' alleged "negligent practices," as well as the implementation of adequate standards to "monitor and discipline" arms dealers.
Although it is unclear if the suit will succeed, "the objective is symbolic and political to open the debate," said Romain le Cour, an expert at the consultancy firm Noria Research.
Mexico has seen more than 300,000 murders, most of them blamed on criminal gangs, since the government of then-president Felipe Calderon deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.
Many weapons reach Mexico from the United States through small-scale shipments known as "ant trafficking."
"They bring them either in parts or whole with contraband merchandise, clothes and various items imported to Ciudad Juarez," said Jorge Nava, a prosecutor in the border state of Chihuahua.
A member of a self-defense group in the violent western state of Michoacan who did not want to be named said their weapons sometimes come from family members living north of the frontier.
"We started with hunting rifles, but everyone in the movement has relatives in the United States and from there they manage to send us good weapons across the border," he said on condition of anonymity.
- 'Affront to sovereignty' -
Mexico has seen increased inflows of partially assembled firearms known as "80 percent" guns that are finished in Mexico, according to a person involved in arms trafficking for two decades.
"It's legal, and with it, you can build an army," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Mexican government says that the lawsuit does not seek to change US laws such as the Constitution's Second Amendment granting the right to bear arms.
However, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the US firearm industry trade association, has called the litigation "an affront to US sovereignty."
"The Mexican government is responsible for the rampant crime and corruption within their own borders," it said, blaming drug cartels for misusing illegally imported or stolen firearms.
"Rather than seeking to scapegoat law-abiding American businesses, Mexican authorities must focus their efforts on bringing the cartels to justice," the association said in a statement.
The Mexican government accuses US manufacturers of developing different firearm models especially for drug traffickers.
The arms trafficker, who operates in Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca, agreed that the authorities in his country share responsibility.
"The Mexican authorities allow everything to enter from the United States without carefully checking it, without adequate controls, and also due to a lot of corruption in customs," he said.