Attorneys representing Janet Delana of Lafayette County, MO, announced a $2.2 million settlement in their precedent-setting case against a Missouri gun dealer that, despite warning from Janet, sold a gun to her severely mentally ill daughter. The daughter then used the gun to shoot and kill Janet's husband, Tex Delana. This case, brought by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Legal Action Project and Missouri lawyers Annette Griggs, David McCollum, and Jane Francis, won a landmark decision from the Missouri Supreme Court, which unanimously held that gun dealers in Missouri can be held responsible for selling a gun to someone who they have reason to believe is too dangerous to buy a weapon.
That decision set legal precedent that can be used to hold gun dealers across the country accountable for negligently supplying dangerous people with guns. The lawsuit alleged Janet Delana called Odessa Gun & Pawn and told the manager her adult daughter had a long history of severe mental illness and should not be sold a gun. Janet testified in a deposition that she said to Odessa: "I'm begging you. I'm begging you as a mother, if she comes in, please don't sell her a gun." Despite this plea, Odessa sold a gun to Janet's daughter two days later and within an hour, Janet's husband of forty years was dead. In a 2014 deposition, the store's owner testified that, despite knowing the tragic outcome of the sale, the store would do nothing differently if faced with the same circumstances.
Jonathan Lowy, lead counsel for Delana and Director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project, said: "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. 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. 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."
Mr. Lowy said: "While most gun dealers already are responsible businesspeople who take great care to prevent dangerous people from getting their hands on guns, litigation is increasingly cracking down on the small number of bad apple gun dealers who irresponsibly supply criminals. The Brady Center is committed to changing the financial calculus by taking the profit out of supplying the criminal gun market, and making sure bad apple gun dealers are held responsible wherever they are."
Alla Lefkowitz, co-counsel for Delana and a Staff Attorney at the Brady Center's Legal Action Project said, "The Missouri Supreme Court decision and resulting settlement opens the courthouse doors for victims who may have been silenced in the past. Since the court's decision, at least two new cases have been filed in the Kansas City-area seeking to hold a gun dealer responsible for negligently selling a firearm. And we have noticed a significant uptick in interest by private attorneys to bring these types of cases."
According to documents obtained by the Brady Center through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has repeatedly found serious violations of federal firearms laws by the Odessa Gun & Pawn store, yet still has not shut it down. The documents show that over a nine year period, from 2006-2014, the ATF audited Odessa five times, finding serious violations in four of these audits including performing sales without background checks, failing to note down the results of background checks, failing to comply with the three-day waiting period for delayed background check results, and selling firearms to individuals who indicated that they were not the actual purchasers of the guns. During a 2008 audit, an ATF inspector even noted that the owner "joked about the number of forms that were completed incorrectly."
Janet's case is just one of many gun dealer liability cases that the Brady Center is currently litigating, including cases in Florida, Indiana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
For more than 25 years, the Brady Center's Legal Action Project has been the only law group in America dedicated to fighting in the courts to prevent gun violence, and has won over $13 million in settlements and verdicts against the gun industry on behalf of victims of gun violence. Other cases brought by the Brady Center include: a $5.7 million jury verdict won against a Wisconsin gun dealer last year; a $2.5 million settlement against a Washington state gun dealer and Maine gun manufacturer; a $1 million settlement against a West Virginia gun dealer; and victories in the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.