A Missouri firearms shop has agreed to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. This outcome may serve as a precedent that will have national repercussions on gun dealer liability. Don’t be shocked to learn that is a view not shared by those in the gun making and selling industry. Odessa Gun & Pawn will pay $2.2 million to settle the lawsuit. It was alleged that the gun shop negligently sold a weapon to a mentally ill woman who used the gun to kill her father.
In her lawsuit, Janet Delana said the Odessa, Mo., shop “negligently sold or entrusted a gun” to her mentally ill adult daughter, Colby Sue Weathers, despite prior warnings. Ms. Delana called Odessa Gun & Pawn on June 25, 2012, to urge them not to sell a firearm to her daughter because she posed a potential safety risk to herself and others. But two days after Ms. Delana’s call, the daughter bought a handgun from the shop. About an hour later, the 38-year-old woman fatally shot her father, Tex Delana.
In May 2012, Ms. Weathers bought a pistol from the same store. Afterwards, she had suicidal intentions, and the family took the gun for her safety. The complaint alleged the shop knew or should have known during the June sale that Ms. Weathers had a history of mental illness and thus posed a risk to public safety. Ms. Weathers was charged with murder and later found not guilty due to her mental impairment. She was committed to a state mental hospital.
The Defense lawyers tried to have the case thrown based on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). But in April, the state Supreme Court unanimously decided to allow the lawsuit to proceed. The appellate court decided that a gun store could be held responsible for the fatal shooting despite the PLCAA. The 2005 federal shield law grants firearms companies broad immunity from legal actions for weapons used in crimes. The measure has prevented a large number of lawsuits brought by gun violence victims and their families from going to trial. The law bars negligence claims, but among its exceptions is “negligent entrustment,” which was cited in the Missouri case.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has declared the settlement a landmark victory for the gun safety movement. Jonathan Lowy, lead counsel for Delana, who also serves as Director of the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project, said in a statement:
Today’s settlement sends the latest resounding message to gun dealers across the country that if they don’t clean up their act, they will be forced to pay the consequences when they choose to irresponsibly arm dangerous people with guns.
Hopefully, this case will serve that purpose. We can’t continue to act irresponsibly in this area of concern. There can be responsible gun control without doing any damage to rights of individuals protected by the U.S. Constitution.