JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ruled a mother can sue a pawn shop for selling her schizophrenic daughter a gun despite a warning not to, which the daughter then used to fatally shoot her father.
An attorney for Janet Delana, the mother from Wellington, said the ruling could have “tremendous” implications for victims of gun violence in the state.
“If you sell a gun irresponsibly to someone who you have reason to know shouldn’t have it, you will be held responsible in court,” said Alla Lefkowitz of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C.
At the center of the lawsuit is Colby Sue Weathers, who is schizophrenic. Her mother says Weathers bought a gun from Odessa Gun & Pawn in May 2012 and tried to kill herself.
According to court records, Delana called Odessa Gun & Pawn the next month and warned the store against selling Weathers another firearm. Two days later, the store sold her daughter a gun, which she within an hour used to fatally shoot her father and attempt suicide again.
The state has since committed Weathers to a mental institution.
Attorneys for the pawn shop had argued the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products, blocked Delana from suing.
While the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that law and said it does block some legal action, judges also ruled that 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.
Kevin Jamison, an attorney for the pawn shop, said the ruling is concerning for firearms dealers, who he said have relied on federal background checks to decide whether to sell guns.
“The average gun shop employee is not a psychiatrist and cannot tell who’s crazy and who isn’t,” Jamison said.
Jamison said the business and its legal representation have not yet decided how to respond to the ruling.
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