A Washington organization aimed at reducing gun violence is suing an Odessa, Mo., gun store in the death of a Lafayette County man shot and killed by his mentally troubled daughter.
The store’s operators should have heeded a warning from the daughter’s mother not to sell a gun to a person in such an unsettled psychological state, the organization’s lawyers said.
“We are not anti-gun, we are not anti-Second Amendment,” Jonathan E. Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Wednesday, adding that the litigation is not aimed at eroding the rights of responsible gun owners or dealers.
“However, there are a few bad apples,” he said at a news conference in North Kansas City. With the lawsuit, “we are trying to send a message to stop putting profit over people.”
The complaint, filed Wednesday in Lafayette County Circuit Court, says that in June 2012, Odessa Gun & Pawn sold a .45-caliber pistol to Colby Sue Weathers and that Weathers used the gun to fatally shoot her father soon after. Store personnel sold her a gun despite the pleas of her mother, Janet Delana, who had called the store two days earlier to warn them of her daughter’s illness, according to the lawsuit.
“I just thought, ‘Maybe I can be proactive,’ ” Delana said Wednesday.
“I said, ‘Please, please, I’m begging you as a mother, don’t sell a gun to her.’ They did.”
The wrongful-death lawsuit accuses three men affiliated with the shop of negligence.
A person answering a phone at the store Wednesday declined to comment.
Tex C. Delana, 60, died after being shot in the family home in Wellington.
Weathers, then 38, was charged with first-degree murder. According to court documents, Weathers bought a .45-caliber firearm from an Odessa pawnshop. She returned home and approached her father, who was sitting at a computer in the dining room.
Weathers fired once through the back of the chair. Tex Delana attempted to get away but collapsed at the back door.
Authorities said Weathers then called police and said she couldn’t shoot herself.
“I was going to after I did it,” she told the dispatcher, according to the charging document. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I know I need to go to jail, but I am trying to kill myself first.”
Janet Delana explained Wednesday how she and her husband began noticing alarming changes about seven years ago in their daughter’s behavior as she grew suspicious and paranoid.
“She thought she had a chip inside her and she was being monitored,” Delana said.
Weathers began to exhibit a high level of paranoia in 2006 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2011 by a physician evaluating her for Medicaid eligibility, according to the lawsuit. In 2011, Social Security Administration staff members determined Weathers was unable to work because of her mental issues, and Weathers began receiving benefits.
Delana said Wednesday that she was worried her daughter soon would be receiving a Social Security check and might try to buy a gun at the Odessa store. About a month before, according to the lawsuit, Weathers had contemplated committing suicide with a different gun purchased from the store.
Her husband got rid of that gun, Delana said.
Both federal and Missouri firearms laws recognize the dangers of selling guns to the dangerously mentally ill, according to the lawsuit.
“We are not commenting on it; I haven’t even been served yet,” said a man answering the phone Wednesday at Odessa Gun & Pawn who declined to identify himself. “It’s premature to talk about it.”
“It’s a tragic story,” said Allen Rostron, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who attended the news conference. Whatever a person’s stance on gun control, he said, a person hearing details of the Weathers case would think “That’s not right, that’s not responsible, that certainly does seem reckless.”
More than 10 similar lawsuits are in various stages of litigation across the country, Lowy said. In some cases, he and colleagues have reached settlements.
Lowy was scheduled to be in Pittsburg, Kan., on Thursday on a court proceeding related to a similar case. Last summer, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Kansas gun store owners must exercise the “highest standard of care” to avoid selling firearms to felons.
The court’s opinion came in a case filed against a Baxter Springs gun shop by the mother of an 8-year-old boy killed by his father in a 2003 murder-suicide.
The boy’s mother contended the Baxter Springs Gun & Pawn Shop negligently sold her estranged husband a shotgun even though he had felony convictions for attempted rape and attempted kidnapping. The court’s ruling returned the case to Cherokee County District Court, which previously had dismissed it.
Lowy and his colleagues believe the Odessa lawsuit is viable, he said Wednesday, adding “our hope is to obtain some measure of justice.”
Lowy declined to say what damages they were seeking or how they learned of the case.
The Brady Center honors Jim Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was shot during the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan. Brady suffered a head wound that left him partially paralyzed for life. In 2001 the organization, which previously had been known by other names, was renamed in honor of Brady and his wife, Sarah. Brady campaigned for laws concerning waiting periods and background checks that became law in the 1990s.
Weathers was admitted to the Fulton State Hospital in October, according to the lawsuit. Criminal charges are pending against her in Lafayette County.
“Colby is my only daughter, and I love her dearly,” Delana said.