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Alejandro Celorio Alcántara is the legal adviser of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Every year, about a half million guns — many of them semiautomatic assault rifles — are illegally trafficked from the United States into Mexico. In 2019, those guns were used to murder 17,000 people in our country — that’s 46 funerals every day for a year, an unendurable tragedy for many heartbroken families.
For several years, Mexico has had in place more than 17 specific strategies to tackle the illicit trafficking of firearms into our country. These broad and ambitious programs range from assigning the administration of all customs to the Army and the Navy, to promoting important initiatives in international forums, such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations. Naturally, we have also worked closely and at the highest level with the U.S. government, with whom with share the priority of preventing the influx of weapons that creates violence in Mexico and Central America that also boomerangs with waves of migration and illicit drugs — drugs that destroy and end the lives of countless U.S. citizens.
But all the efforts of Mexico, and of the United States with its vast resources, have not been sufficient to stop the flood of weapons of war into Mexico.
This deadly flood must be stopped at its source. The policy of the gun manufacturers is to sell their guns to any gun dealer that has a U.S. federal license. It doesn’t matter if the dealer might have a history of selling to “straw purchasers” or others who could supply to gun-trafficking rings; no matter that the customer is buying AK-47 and AR-15 assault weapons in bulk; no matter that the dealer sells at gun shows where background checks are not required.
The gun manufacturers have access to real-time sales data and other information that raise red flags, but their head-in-the-sand approach ignores them. This is unreasonable; at a minimum, it’s negligent.
Mexico will continue to do all that we can to stop this lethal trafficking. But the missing link in these efforts has been the manufacturers, the people with the best and most timely information and knowledge. The goal of Mexico’s lawsuit is to make the manufacturers incur the costs of their failure to distribute their products safely and responsibly. Making them do so will change their financial incentives, encouraging them to become fighters against gun trafficking rather than profiteers from it.
Mexico has absolute respect for the sovereignty and laws of the United States. Our respect is such that we decided to file the lawsuit in American courts, recognizing the legitimacy and strength of those institutions. This action is possible because the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that foreign governments who are injured abroad by U.S.-based corporations may bring civil lawsuits in U.S. courts.
We respect the Second Amendment rights of the American people. Our efforts are not aimed at them but at organized crime groups in Mexico. Some might argue that guns in themselves are not malicious, and that evil comes from the person who misuses them. Hammers are not evil in themselves. But we would all rightly condemn a hardware store that continued to sell heavy-duty hammers to customers with a known track record of using them to kill and create mayhem.
The Mexican government makes only a reasonable request: take care not to sell to gun traffickers. There is a clear correlation between the production and distribution of guns in the United States and the rate of homicide by firearms in Mexico. After the United States' assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004, Mexico experienced a 12.2 percent increase in the number of gun deaths. Furthermore, 2020 was a year in which gun sales increased dramatically in the United States, and violence, destruction and gun deaths in Mexico remain at record levels. We hope that with our lawsuit, the court will evaluate this and further evidence supporting our arguments.
We are suing so our citizens may live without fear and our law enforcement officers may return home after work safely. We want to use the resources of the Mexican state for the development of our country, not for funerals or forensic services, not for replacing vehicles and helicopters, not for search teams to look for people who “disappear” due to organized crime’s firepower. That is why we are taking action to halt illegal arms trafficking at its source.
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