Mexico has filed a lawsuit against major US gunmakers in a Boston court over illegal cross-border arms flows that it blamed for fueling rampant drug-related violence.
The Latin American nation, which has long faced pressure from the United States to curb narcotics smuggling, wants its neighbour to crack down on firearms trafficking in the other direction.
This kind of legal action is unprecedented for the Mexican government and has the backing of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference.
"We are going to win the trial and we are going to drastically reduce illicit arms trafficking to Mexico," he said.
The companies named in the suit filed on Wednesday include Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Colt, Glock, Century Arms, Ruger and Barrett.
Together they manufacture more than two-thirds of the more than half a million weapons that are illegally brought into Mexico each year, according to authorities.
Between 70 and 90 per cent of all weapons recovered from crime scenes in Mexico were smuggled in from the United States, Mexico's foreign ministry said.
The flow of arms generates millions of dollars in profits each year for the US gun industry.
The lawsuit seeks compensation – of an amount to be determined during the trial – for the damage caused by the firms' "negligent practices", Mr Ebrard said.
But the main aim is to make the companies change their behaviour, he added.
"If we don't file a lawsuit like this and we don't win it, they won't understand. They will continue to do the same and we will continue to have deaths every day in our country," he said.
The government wants the implementation of adequate standards to "monitor and discipline" arms dealers.
Mexico has recorded more than 300,000 murders since 2006, when it deployed the military in the fight on drugs trafficking, most of them blamed on criminal gangs.
More than 17,000 killings in 2019 involved weapons illegally trafficked from the US, according to the Mexican government.
Mr Ebrard accused US manufacturers of developing different firearm models especially for Mexican drug traffickers – an argument that is included in the lawsuit.
"They are made for that, so that they buy them," he said.
Mexico was confident the lawsuit would not spark a diplomatic spat with Washington because it does not target the US government and the complaint has a "legal and moral" basis, he added.
Experts said Mexico faces a mammoth task taking on the deep-pocketed gunmakers.
The move is "almost an obligation" but likely to be largely symbolic, said Lorenzo Meyer, emeritus professor at the College of Mexico.
"The lawsuit is going to receive a response from an army of lawyers," he said, adding that US law "makes it almost impossible for gun manufacturers to be held responsible" for the illegal trade.
"It's a piece in a chess game that Mexico is forced to play with the United States in disadvantageous conditions," Mr Meyer said.
"We are in a situation in which if the United States does not really intend to end arms flows, it is impossible for Mexico to stop them."