KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A pawn shop that sold a gun to a mentally ill Missouri woman who used it to fatally shoot her father settled Tuesday in a wrongful death case for $2.2 million, which the plaintiff's lawyer says is the largest settlement since a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from most similar lawsuits.
Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lawyer Jonathan Lowy told The Associated Press before a Tuesday settlement hearing in Lexington, Missouri, that the case could have a national impact and is significant following the enactment of a federal law barring some state-level actions against gun dealers after buyers use the weapons to harm others.
"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," said Lowy, who is representing the woman's mother, in a statement.
In the Missouri case, Wellington resident Janet Delana said her daughter, Colby Sue Weathers, in May 2012 bought a gun from Odessa Gun & Pawn and tried to kill herself. According to court records, Delana and her husband took that gun away from Weathers.
Delana, a gun owner herself, said she asked the store in June not to sell a gun to Weathers, who is schizophrenic. Weathers bought a gun from the store two days later and within hours used it to fatally shoot her father and attempt suicide again.
"I don't want to take anybody's gun away," Delana said at a news conference. "But there are some people who don't need guns, and my daughter was one. That is the bottom line. There are people out there who don't need them."
The state committed Weathers to a mental institution, and Delana filed a wrongful death suit against the gun dealer.
Pawn shop attorney Kevin Jamison said Tuesday the settlement could dissuade those interested in selling guns from opening stores and might be used to crack down on firearms dealers in other states. He also said it could have a broader impact on other types of stores.
"Everybody who sells cars, alcohol, chain saws or anything that could be potentially harmful now has to be a psychologist," Jamison said.
Lawyers for Odessa Gun & Pawn unsuccessfully tried to block the wrongful death case, arguing to the Missouri Supreme Court that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was intended to prevent such lawsuits and potential chilling effects on commerce.
Judges in April upheld the constitutionality of that law but said certain negligence lawsuits can be brought under state law against gun sellers. The judges cited an exemption in the federal law, which allows for lawsuits if the seller knows, or reasonably should know, that the buyer likely will "use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others," and then does that.
Alla Lefkowitz, another attorney for Delana from the Brady Center, told reporters Tuesday that the ATF had audited the Odessa store roughly five times between 2006 and 2014 and found serious violations on four occasions.
"This store is still in business and the ATF has not shut them down," Lefkowitz said. "That's one of the absolute tragic aspects of this story, which is already tragic enough, that the ATF did have a chance to do something here before this gun was sold and they chose not to."
She said that since the Missouri Supreme Court ruling two other cases against gun dealers have been filed in the Kansas City area.
The center says it's fighting similar cases in Florida, Indiana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this story from Jefferson City.