Hit men from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel rolled into a swanky Mexico City neighborhood on the morning of June 26, 2020, planning to assassinate the capital’s police chief. They carried three Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol and 5.56mm caliber carbine, a Ruger 5.56mm caliber rifle and a Colt 5.56mm caliber carbine. After a terrifying shootout, two police officers and a civilian were killed, the police chief was wounded, and a drug cartel once again showed that it is armed like special forces.
The incident is featured in an unprecedented lawsuit by the Mexican government to expand responsibility for gun violence. On Wednesday, the Mexican government sued American gun-makers and distributors in U.S. federal court for damages caused by illicit firearms. The defendants include Smith & Wesson, Barrett, Ruger, Colt and several others.
The lawsuit aims to “make the defendant companies compensate the government of Mexico for the damage caused by their negligent practices,” said Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who presented the suit filed in Massachusetts federal court. The Mexican government estimates $10 billion in damages from economic loss
The lawsuit is a long shot in American courts, legal experts say. But for Mexico, it’s about more than the courtroom.
“The Mexican government wants to put arms trafficking at the center of the conversation with the United States,” says Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, the head of security research programs at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for US-Mexico Studies. “They’re saying, ‘You’re concerned about drug trafficking, well we’re just as concerned about firearms trafficking.’
“All border security is directed towards stopping drugs from going into the US, not to identify arms going south,” says Carlos Pérez Ricart, a professor of international relations at the Center for Economic Research and Training in Mexico City. “A single cell of three or four people can traffic between 300 and 400 arms into Mexico every year, no problem
The lawsuit alleges the arms companies aren’t simply negligent but they also “design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico.” The suit lists a striking example: Colt’s .38-caliber “Emiliano Zapata 1911” edition. The gold-plated pistol is engraved with a Zapata quote: “It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees.”
The gun is coveted by cartel bosses, according to local media reports. It was the weapon used to murder Mexican investigative journalist Miroslava Breach in 2017. The lawsuit provides several other examples of manufacturers allegedly tailoring products to cartel preferences
It’s an uphill battle. The first hurdle to overcome is a 2005 law in the U.S., the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. It makes civil lawsuits against arms manufacturers, like the one filed by the Mexican government, almost impossible.