Lawsuit Alleges US Gunmakers Responsible for Violence in Mexico

What was supposed to be a routine search by Mexican National Guard troops is being investigated after an 18-year-old US citizen was shot and killed in Ciudad Juárez.

Juan Carlos Medina died near the Paso del Norte Bridge after crossing from El Paso in the early hours of November 20. Relatives in Medina say he was killed as he tried to escape and want authorities to check surveillance cameras in the area. Mexican National Guard soldiers said they found two handguns in the teenager’s backpack, Chihuahua state investigators said.

A pistol is described as “a brown camouflage with stars”, with “Made in USA Glock in Smyrna Ga”. stamped on it. The other handgun was black and had the tag “made in Austria Glock in Smyrna Ga.”, According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office.

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While it is not clear why Medina carried both handguns, it is illegal to bring weapons into Mexico.

Small-scale arms smuggling across the border occurs regularly, according to Mexican officials who call it “trafico hormiga», Where the weapons are transported to Mexico like an army of ants.

In an attempt to curb gun smuggling, the Mexican government is suing a group of gun manufacturers – including Glock, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, and Colt’s Manufacturing – in the United States. A hearing in the case was held last week in Boston.

“We are sure that we have a very strong case which will set a very great precedent,” said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León, Consul General of Mexico in El Paso.

Ciudad Juárez has been the victim of armed violence for decades, killing thousands.

Lawyers for gun manufacturers have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They assert that Mexico fails to show that “the manufacturers’ business practices are the cause of the injuries inflicted by the Mexican drug cartels” and that “Mexico’s alleged harms come from other victims.”

Mexico argues in the lawsuit that the arms manufacturers are “not accidental or unintentional gamblers, but rather deliberate and willful participants who profit from the criminal market which they knowingly provide”, resulting in “consequences. shattering ”for the government and citizens of Mexico.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the leader of the gun industry trade association, blamed Mexico for the consequences.

The Mexican government should focus on prosecuting Mexican drug cartels in Mexican courtrooms, not filing a baseless lawsuit in a US court to distract from its shameful and corrupt failure to protect its citizens ”Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president of the NSSF, said in an email response to a request for comment on the trial.

Relatives of a gunshot man mourn as police investigate the 2013 homicide scene in Juárez. Most of the weapons used in Juárez’s homicides were smuggled into Mexico from the United States. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

The Mexican government accuses US arms manufacturers of “constantly supplying a torrent of arms to drug cartels” and estimates that half a million guns are smuggled south of the border each year. The contraband weapons cache includes the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which was used against the Mexican military.

“In just a few years, it damaged 15 military planes, costing the Mexican government more than $ 40 million,” Ibarra Ponce de León said.

Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world and only one official licensed gun store in Mexico City, which is operated by the military. But the country has a thriving black market, and Mexican authorities estimate that at least 70% of guns at crime scenes are located in the United States.

During overseas searches of people and vehicles bound for Mexico, U.S. customs and border protection officers seized 375 firearms between October 2020 and July of this year, according to figures. newer ones available from CBP. This exceeds last year’s total figure of 355 for the full year.

This year, Laredo leads the number of weapons confiscated at the border with 279 weapons. In El Paso, 26 firearms were discovered by CBP. Sporadic searches by CBP agents and Mexican customs officials catch only a small fraction of contraband weapons at the border, US and Mexican officials acknowledge.

In the lawsuit, the Mexican government accuses arms manufacturers of marketing “military-style” weapons and super pistols commonly smuggled into Mexico. “They market them to appeal to criminal organizations. They market them under names such as El Jefe or Emiliano Zapata, ”said Ibarra Ponce de León.

Zapata, one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders, is among those featured on the guns investigators say are prized by cartel bosses. Some of the richly engraved weapons were seized in Mexico during police raids and arrests.

Municipal police display weapons confiscated as part of a “presentation” of suspects in Juárez in 2012. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

As it fights a legal battle, Mexico faces shootings in its streets and violent clashes with well-armed cartels.

Victor Avila, a former US Homeland Security Investigator, experienced the firepower of cartels. He and his fellow agent Jaime Zapata were ambushed by gunmen for the Zetas cartel in central Mexico in 2011. Zapata died in the attack.

Victor avila

Avila details her experience as a US federal agent working on cases in Mexico in her new book “Agent Under Fire.”

“As you know, it’s illegal to carry guns in Mexico, but the cartel does it freely,” Avila said. “I no longer qualify them as drug cartels because they are not just that, they have become in my eyes, and I mention this in my book, foreign terrorist organizations. They terrorized the country of Mexico.

According to Avila, the AK-47s shot at him and his partner were sold to Texas. But he doesn’t see Mexico’s lawsuit against US arms manufacturers as the answer to reducing bloodshed.

“I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish. … I think their attention should be shifted to the cartels themselves, ”he said.

The Mexican government says the fight against cross-border criminal organizations is a shared responsibility with the United States, whether it is drug or arms trafficking.

“This is a vicious cycle of violence, a vicious cycle of violence because the guns that go south of the border are directly related to the drugs that are brought into the United States,” Jusionyte said, a professor at Brown University whose research includes gun laws and violence in Mexico.

Jusionyte says guns from the United States into Mexico are also stimulating migration as people fleeing violence seek asylum in the United States.

“We can’t really understand the United States as separate from Mexico when we think of the regional economy of violence,” she said.

Sometimes this violence involves guns pointed at the United States from Mexico. This year, border patrol officers in California and Texas have come under fire on the Mexican side of the border.

In an incident last summer, an El Paso agent took cover after a gunman in Mexico fired 20 shots. The FBI and the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office are investigating this and another incident in which shots were fired from Mexico at a border patrol agent in El Paso.

The Mexican government expects to be back in court in January. In the meantime, an effort to remove guns from the streets of Ciudad Juárez is underway.

Soldiers use power saws to destroy rifles, handguns and other weapons handed over as part of the cash for weapons program in Juárez. (Photo courtesy of Municipio de Ciudad Juárez)

An arms-for-cash swap began on November 23 and continues through December 21. Residents are encouraged to hand in weapons “no questions asked” at designated locations in Ciudad Juárez where soldiers destroy weapons on the spot.

The public-private initiative includes the municipal government, the Fideicomiso para la Competitividad y Seguridad and CANACO, the Chamber of Commerce of Ciudad Juárez.

CANACO President Rogelio Ramos said that “the aim is to prevent the loss of human life in the city”.

Cover photo: Members of the military destroy the weapons handed over at the launch of the weapons-for-cash program in Ciudad Juárez on 23 November. (Photo courtesy of Municipio de Ciudad Juárez)

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