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Mexico Sues U.S. Gun-Makers For Contributing To Arms Trafficking Deaths

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In all of Mexico, there is only one legal gun store. Somehow the country is still littered with high-powered weapons, mostly smuggled from the United States. Now the Mexican government is taking an unprecedented step, suing arms manufacturers in U.S. federal court. James Fredrick is covering this story and is in Mexico City. Good morning.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the argument that Mexico is making in this lawsuit?

FREDRICK: Well, the first thing they point out is what you mentioned, how many firearms come in from the U.S. And they say that 340,000 firearms made by this group of U.S. arms manufacturers is smuggled into Mexico every year and that these companies must make reasonable efforts to stop this from happening. The lawsuit says they don't. And the Mexican government is suing for damages. It wants about $10 billion in economic loss caused by this gun violence.

But more than suing for damages, it's suing because it wants to draw attention to this issue. It wants to say this is part of the damage caused by the drug war. They say that between 70 and 90% of guns found at crime scenes here come from the U.S. They want people to take responsibility. And a key part of this lawsuit is not only that these companies are negligent. The Mexican government claims these gun manufacturers actively market and target their weapons to cartels.

INSKEEP: Oh. So the allegation is that U.S. manufacturers think of Mexico as a market, the Mexico market, and pander to it. How does Mexico document this, though?

FREDRICK: Well, here's an example from the lawsuit they filed. One of the companies named is Colt, which is known for its pistols. And Colt sells three types of specialty pistols called El Jefe, El Grito and the Emiliano Zapata 1911. And they are these gaudy, gold-plated pistols that are very well known as status symbols for cartel gunmen. So the lawsuit says, who else are you marketing those to? You know cartels like those kinds of weapons. So it'll be a difficult point to prove, but it will be quite damning if they can. And I should mention that the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the U.S. gun industry, has rejected this lawsuit, said Mexico is responsible for violence that happens there.

INSKEEP: Let me circle back to a number you gave. You repeated the allegation that up to 90% of gun violence in Mexico is traceable to U.S. firearms. How is that proven?

FREDRICK: Well, you know, one of the struggles in Mexico is that there is a lot of cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico in terms of trying to identify and track this arms trafficking. But basically, at crime scenes - you know, this could be any kind of everyday crime or, you know, a major cartel shootout. But they keep track of all of the weapons found. They run those traces with U.S. authorities. And I mean, the other main thing to point out here is this isn't just kind of, you know, normal gun crime on the streets. I mean, these are cartels that are able to go gun-to-gun with, you know, all police in Mexico and most of the military. I mean, cartels are so well-armed here. They're like small armies.

INSKEEP: And is it fair to say that, almost by definition, virtually all of those guns are illegally purchased somehow?

FREDRICK: Exactly. And so there is - you know, if you think about this pipeline of drugs that exist that these cartels have formed to run drugs south to north, there is the same pipeline in the opposite direction where firearms and money come south.

INSKEEP: James Fredrick in Mexico City, thanks.

FREDRICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.