The Badger Guns case received a lot of media attention last week. No surprise there. A Milwaukee jury awarded two police officers more than $5 million worth of damages. They ruled that Badger Guns should have known that a gun buyer was a “straw purchaser” (a non-prohibited person buying a gun for a prohibited person). Badger was held liable for the cops’ injuries, sustained after the “real” buyer shot them. The case is on appeal. Meanwhile, there’s another somewhat similar case percolating through the system . . .
To make a long story short, a Missouri woman named Colby Sue Weathers was a diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had a history of suicide attempts. On May 29, 2012, she bought a .40 caliber Hi-Point handguns from Odessa Gun & Pawn Shop.
According to Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun agitators at thetrace.org, she told her parents about the gun after she failed to kill herself. Her father “promptly got rid of it.” A month later, Weathers’ mother Janet Delana called Odessa Gun & Pawn, fearing that her daughter would use her Social Security mental disability payment to purchase another handgun, with tragic consequences.
On June 25, 2012 she phoned Odessa to ask them not to sell Weathers a weapon. “I’m begging you,” said Janet, according to a legal brief provided to The Trace [ED: by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence]. “I’m begging you as a mother, if she comes in, please don’t sell her a gun.”
On the phone with a shop attendant, Janet went into detail about Weathers’ psychiatric condition, giving him ample information with which to identify Weathers, including her date of birth and Social Security number. Janet requested that the clerk write the information on a piece of paper to keep next to the register, so employees could reference it should Weathers come in. She hoped that if they knew about her daughter’s suicidal obsessions, they would refuse to sell her a gun, as Missouri law permits gun sellers to use individual discretion when making or denying a sale. But the clerk told Janet that he couldn’t make any promises.
Two days later, on June 27, Weathers walked into Odessa looking for another handgun. Despite Janet’s warnings, Odessa apparently took no extra precautions. There’s no indication that the clerk had written Weathers’s information down, or whether they had asked her any questions about her purchase . . .
Weathers left the store that day with a new Hi-Point .45. Derrick Dady, the same clerk who sold Weathers a gun a month earlier, supervised the sale. At home an hour later, Weathers approached her father, who was sitting at the dining room table, and shot him through the back of his chair. Ten minutes later, she sent a text to Janet, who was out of the house at the time. “Dad is dead” it said. Weathers was later charged with murder, but the court accepted her plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
With the “help” of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, Weathers’ mother sued Odessa. [Click here to read the complaint.] The court threw out the lawsuit; it fell afoul of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Brady is appealing (not literally). But the question remains: should Odessa have refused to make the sale?
Couple of points to consider.
- There is a big difference between a moral and a legal obligation to stop a firearms sale
- Weathers was never involuntarily committed to a mental institution. She passed a federal background check.
- As thetrace rightly points out, “The National Shooting Sports Foundation advises gun sellers to ‘to engage the customer and ask enough questions to draw out information on their background and intentions. If suspicions arise, it is more prudent to follow the precautionary principle of politely refusing the sale.'”
All that said, never underestimate the importance of incompetence. Odessa may have simply dropped the ball; they may have refused the sale if they’d recognized the danger. Even so, this is a valuable thought experiment. On a personal note . . .
I once asked a local liquor store to stop selling alcohol to my (then) wife. The owner continued to do so. I was saddened, but not angry. I figured he was under no obligation to prevent a legal sale. Nor did he know if I had just cause to make the request. Like firearms dealers, or car dealers, he bore no responsibility for what someone did with a legally sold product. And my wife would have purchased alcohol somewhere else.