Mexico files second lawsuit against US arms dealers

MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government filed another U.S. arms lawsuit Monday, this time against five U.S. gun shops and distributors it claims are responsible for the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico.

Mexico’s first lawsuit, which was recently dismissed, was against US arms manufacturers. The second, which Secretary of State Marcelo Ebrard said was filed in Arizona federal district court on Monday, targets arms dealers.

“We’re suing them because there’s clearly a pattern, we’re arguing that it’s obvious that there’s arms trafficking and that it’s known that these arms are going to our country,” Ebrard said.

Ebrard promised last week that the new lawsuit would target gun shops or dealers in US border states who sell guns to “straw” buyers who pass them on to smugglers who then take the guns into Mexico.

Mexico is suing for unspecified financial damages and to require the gun shops to hire independent monitors to ensure that US federal laws are followed in gun purchases.

Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, the legal adviser to Mexico’s foreign affairs department, said Mexico had chosen “the five worst stores” to name in the lawsuit, including three gun stores in Tucson, one in Phoenix and one in Yuma, Arizona.

“They are not careful when they sell products, so they allow straw buyers to buy guns,” said Celorio Alcántara, adding that they sold several guns, several times to some buyers. “We say they are negligent and facilitate straw buyers, so they are complicit.”

He claimed that US criminal investigations had traced gun purchases back to the stores, and said there was evidence that the stores had failed to file required information on some purchases.

“The main argument in our lawsuit is that these companies are an organized part of a criminal enterprise, a mechanism to make it easier for criminals and cartels in Mexico to use their weapons,” said Celorio Alcántara.

He said the first hearing on the case might not come until this summer.

Ebrard said about 60% of the guns seized in Mexico in recent years are believed to have been sold in 10 U.S. counties, mostly along the border. Mexico has very strict restrictions on gun ownership, but drug cartel violence has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the country in recent years.

“We will show that many of these businesses where they sell these products in these counties that I mentioned are dealing with straw buyers and that criminal charges should be brought,” Ebrard said last week in an appearance before the Mexican Senate .

A recently passed US law defines the purchase of straw as a felony and provides penalties of up to 15 to 25 years if the offense is related to drug trafficking.

Celorio Alcántara said that was an important difference between this and Mexico’s previous lawsuit: In the Arizona case, Mexico is arguing a violation of U.S. laws.

The announcement comes days after a US federal judge dismissed Mexico’s first lawsuit against US arms manufacturers; Mexico has said it will appeal this ruling.

The judge ruled that Mexico’s claims against the gunmakers did not overcome the broad protections afforded to the gunmakers by the Lawful Trade in Arms Protection Act, passed in 2005.

The law protects gun manufacturers from damages “resulting from the criminal or illegal misuse” of a firearm.

Mexico was seeking at least $10 billion in damages, but legal experts had seen the lawsuit as a long shot.

The Mexican government estimates that 70% of the weapons traded to Mexico come from the United States, according to the State Department. It said that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides in Mexico were linked to trafficked weapons.

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