This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.
In a case likely to have nationwide repercussions, a Missouri gun dealer has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it negligently sold a gun to a schizophrenic woman who used it to kill her father.
“The $2.2 million settlement hits them in the pocketbook and makes clear to gun dealers across the country and their insurance companies that they need to act responsibly,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project.
Lowy was the lead lawyer for plaintiff Janet Delana, who claimed that Odessa Gun & Pawn Shop in Odessa, Missouri, provided a firearm to her daughter knowing she would likely use it in a manner that posed an unreasonable risk of harm to herself or others.
Federal law bars most negligence claims against gun shops. But in a precedent-setting decision, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled in April that the suit could proceed.
The court found that while the federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), does bar straightforward negligence claims, it does not bar “negligent entrustment” claims.
The PLCAA provides broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers, preempting civil actions against them in federal or state court. The law, however, contains several exceptions, one of which is a suit brought under the legal theory of legal entrustment.
The settlement reached Tuesday is the first of its kind, according to Lowy.
"I am proud," Delana said at a news conference in Kansas City after the settlement was approved. "I don't want to take anybody's gun away, I don't. But there are some people who don't need guns. And my daughter was one."
Delana filed her lawsuit after her daughter, Colby Weathers, bought a gun at Odessa Gun & Pawn Shop and used it to kill Tex Delana, her father and Delana’s husband.
Delana had called the store on June 25, 2012, pleading with it not to sell a gun to her daughter. Weathers had bought a gun there previously and later attempted to commit suicide. Delana gave the store manager her daughter’s full name, Social Security number and birthdate and told him, “I’m begging of you. I’m begging of you as a mother, if she comes in, please don’t sell her a gun,” her lawsuit stated.
Despite Delana’s plea, the store sold Weathers a gun and ammunition. She shot and killed Tex Delana within the hour. Weathers eventually pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of a mental defect or disease and was committed to the care of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
The Brady Center says that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has found repeated violations of federal firearms laws by Odessa Gun & Pawn but has not moved to shut it down.
The Odessa case is one of several the Brady Center has filed against gunshops in Florida, Indiana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.
“The gun industry and their insurance companies are waking up to the reality that whether jurors are conservative or progressive, gun-owners or not, they will hold gun stores accountable for irresponsibly supplying dangerous people with guns," Lowy said in prepared remarks. "Although Lafayette County, Missouri is a rural, politically conservative area, and home to a Remington Arms manufacturing facility, we still achieved this tremendous result for our client.”
In the Kansas City area, two similar lawsuits are pending against Wal-Mart, which sold the weapons used by an avowed anti-Semite to kill three people outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park.
Lowy said that he believed the Missouri Supreme Court's ruling in the Delana case supports liability in those cases as well.
Delana said her daughter was finally getting the help she needs. Some days, Delana said, it feels like she has the "old Colby" back.
"It's hard. We still have our rough times. But she's moving on. Once you recognize this never would've happened if she'd never gotten sick, then you can kind of see a path to go down," Delana said.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.