By Miguel Mendivil Roiz *
Curbing the illicit flows of small arms and light weapons has been a top priority of Mexico’s foreign policy for many decades. More recently however, Mexican diplomacy has focused on the wide availability of firearms in Mexico that has led to unprecedented violence, long-standing instability in some regions of the country and thousands of lives lost. At the multilateral level, the Mexican government has historically taken important steps to contribute towards the eradication of this problem. One example is Mexico’s prominent role in the negotiation, adoption, and entry into force of the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2014, or the multiple resolutions both at the UN’s General Assembly and the Security Council to recognize the role that the illicit flow of firearms represent to international peace and security.
To some extent, Mexico’s efforts at the multilateral level have contributed to better monitoring systems or, at least, greater awareness on the importance of such topic. However, it can be argued that these efforts have had little impact on the large flows of arms that cross into Mexico mainly through its land border with the United States. Undoubtedly, the U.S.-Mexico border’s porosity allows is a factor of special importance that merits special attention. By the end of 2019, 70 percent of homicides in Mexico were carried out with a fire gun, out of which more than half were smuggled into Mexican territory from the United States, according to Mexican government estimates. In total, 80 percent of weapons seized by Mexican authorities came from its northern neighbor.
In this context and in close coordination with the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, the Mexican government opted to take a historic step in 2021 by suing 11 gun manufacturers in U.S. courts. Mexico’s lawsuit is based on the claim that U.S. gunmakers bear responsibility for the illicit flows of weapons into Mexican soil and, therefore, for violence in the country. Mexico argues that gun companies are negligent in the designing, manufacturing, and distribution of their end products and turn a blind eye when third parties sell them to criminals in a significantly permissible manner.
Last November, firearms manufacturers asked a U.S. federal court in Massachusetts to dismiss Mexico’s action, but the lawsuit has already caught the attention of multiple actors. Recently, as a result of a poll in which thousands of people from all over the world voted, the Washington-based Arms Control Association awarded its “Arms Control Persons of the Year” award to Mexico’s Foreign Minister and the Mexican Government in light of the lawsuit in question.
Despite its early stage, the lawsuit is already considered a landmark and innovative effort in Mexican foreign policy. If the U.S. court were to decide that private gun manufacturers bear responsibility in the use of their products it would be an unprecedented outcome. A court decision in favor of Mexico could not only have significant impact in the dynamics of illicit flows of small arms and light weapons on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, but also beyond it.
* Miguel Mendivil Roiz is executive secretary at COMEXI´s Young Professionals Program (PJCOMEXI) and a staff advisor at the Mexican Senate. He holds a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Oxford and has experience in multilateral affairs. PJCOMEXI partners in several initiatives with The US-Mexico Foundation, a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @USMexicoFound