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Mexico Sues U.S. Guns Manufacturers For Fueling Violence

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For the first time, a national government is suing U.S. gun manufacturers. Mexico has filed the lawsuit and contends that half a million guns make their way illegally into their country every year from the U.S. Mexico's rates of crime and violence are some of the highest on record in the last two years alone.

Roberto Velasco Alvarez is director of North American affairs with Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he joins us now. Mr. Alvarez, thanks so much for being with us.

ROBERTO VELASCO ALVAREZ: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: What do you hope to achieve with this lawsuit?

ALVAREZ: Well, organized crime is literally wreaking havoc in some areas of our country with military-grade weapons that they get from the United States. So our main objective is try to curtail the flow of these guns to the Mexican cartels and naturally, in that way, to help to reduce violence in Mexico. But we also believe that we need the gun manufacturers in the United States to take responsibility from some of their sales practices that make it easier for these organizations and these individuals to acquire these guns and bring them into Mexico, mainly through our shared border.

SIMON: Well, what kind of practices are you talking about that, in your judgment, are lax and enable guns to get into Mexico?

ALVAREZ: Firstly, you know, the sales of guns to individuals who are purchasing a very large quantity of these guns, which from our perspective, these guns are being sold to third parties. There are even guns that are marketed towards these criminal organizations and these individuals.

SIMON: Could you give us an example of a gun that you say is customized for drug dealers or a drug cartel?

ALVAREZ: Here's an example that we included in this lawsuit. It's a gun that is being sold as jefe de jefes, boss of bosses, and it is tailored to follow some guns that have been confiscated from very famous drug lords here in Mexico.

SIMON: What would you have them do?

ALVAREZ: First, we are suing for the damages that they have created for the Mexican economy. And secondly, we want them to, you know, put in place new measures in order to have a greater surveillance on where and who these guns are going to. And naturally, one thing that is of particular importance to us, these high-powered weapons - automatic weapons, assault rifles, machine guns - and that literally, you know, have the power to take many, many lives, and they even have the power to penetrate our cars and vehicles.

SIMON: Doesn't Mexico have primary responsibility for Mexico's crime problem, rather than to blame U.S. gun manufacturers?

ALVAREZ: Of course we have our own responsibility, and we have taken many measures throughout the years to confront this problem at a great cost for the Mexican society. But it's, in the end, a shared responsibility, as is the case with drugs, for example, where we understand that we need to cooperate with the United States government to curtail the flow of drugs to the United States. And that's something that we do all of the time.

SIMON: You know what gun manufacturers have said over the years when individual states and cities have filed lawsuits against them. And I'm going to simplify it greatly, but they essentially say, look; you know, you don't sue the manufacturer of a knife when that's used in a crime. We create a consumer good that is legal, and we're sorry, but we're not responsible for it being used in crime.

ALVAREZ: I mean, to a certain extent, I understand this argument. But what we're saying is they do have to assume that they are participating, through their negligence, in some of the problems that these guns are creating. Many of these guns, when they get to Mexico, they also translate into drugs that are being sent to the United States because it's all part of a supply chain of transnational organized crime. So that is something, also, that we add - that we want to add to public debate on gun controls.

SIMON: Roberto Velasco Alvarez is director of North American affairs with Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

ALVAREZ: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: And we should note the trade association for the U.S. gun industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, rejects the allegations and in a statement says, the Mexican government is responsible for crime within its own borders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.