Skip to comments.Mom Sues Wal-Mart Over Daughter's Suicide
Posted on 12/21/2004 6:10:45 PM PST by satchmodog9
Mom Sues Wal-Mart Over Daughter's Suicide
Tue Dec 21, 4:43 PM ET U.S. National - AP
By LIZ AUSTIN, Associated Press Writer
DALLAS - Near the end of her short life, Shayla Stewart, a diagnosed manic-depressive and schizophrenic, assaulted police officers and was arrested for attacking a fellow customer at a Denton Wal-Mart where she had a prescription for anti-psychotic medication.
Given all those signs, her parents say, another Wal-Mart just seven miles away should have never sold her the shotgun she used to kill herself at age 24 in 2003.
Her mother, Lavern Bracy, is suing the world's biggest store chain for $25 million, saying clerks should have known about her daughter's illness or done more to find out.
The case, filed earlier this month, has reignited a debate over the confidentiality of mental health records and the effectiveness of background checks on would-be buyers of guns.
"We know that if they had so much as said, `Why do you want this?' we would not be having this conversation because Shayla would have had a meltdown," said her stepfather, Garrett Bracy.
The Bracys said Wal-Mart's gun department could have checked Wal-Mart's own security files or the pharmacy department's prescription records before selling her the weapon.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher declined to comment on the lawsuit.
But pharmacy prescription records are confidential under a 1996 federal law, so stores cannot use them when deciding whether to sell a gun.
Also, Wal-Mart did a background check on Stewart, as required under federal law, but through no fault of its own, her name did not show up in the FBI (news - web sites) database. The reason: The database contains no mental health records from Texas and 37 other states.
Texas does not submit mental health records because state law deems them confidential, said Paul Mascot, an attorney with the Texas Department of State Health Services. Other states have not computerized their record-keeping systems or do not store them in a central location for use by the FBI.
Federal law prohibits stores from selling guns to people who, like Stewart, have a history of serious mental illness.
Would-be buyers must fill out a form that asks about mental health. On Stewart's form, a box that asked whether she had been involuntarily committed to an institution or declared dangerously mentally ill by a judge was incorrectly marked no. (Her mother's attorneys question whether Stewart filled out the form herself or a clerk did it for her.) Wal-Mart ran a background check anyway, as required by federal law.
Michael Faenza, president and chief executive of the National Mental Health Association, applauds Texas' refusal to share information with the FBI database. He said it would not be fair to violate patients' privacy when there is no data to support claims that mentally ill people are more violent than others.
"The tragedies that families face when people are killed is terrible. And frankly I wish handguns were not so available in this country," he said. "But it's not right, in our minds, to make social policy based on just a few cases."
Garrett Bracy couldn't disagree more.
He and his wife watched his stepdaughter's six-year decline from straight-A high school student to violent and unpredictable stranger. She was hospitalized five times, twice under court orders. Her longest hospitalization, lasting a month, came in 2002 after she refused to leave her room or take her medication.
The suggestion that Wal-Mart should have checked prescription records infuriates Erich Pratt, a spokesman for the Virginia-based group Gun Owners of America.
"Does that mean mental illness prevents everyone on Prozac from owning a gun? Or women with PMS?" he said.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., who ran for Congress after her husband was killed and son wounded in 1993 by a gunman on a Long Island Rail Road train, wants to strengthen the federal background check system by encouraging states to share mental health records. She has introduced legislation that would give states grants to automate and turn over the information.
She drafted the bill after a priest and a parishioner were shot to death by a schizophrenic man in a New York church in 2002. He, too, should not have been allowed to buy a gun.
"When you see these deaths that could have been prevented it's a shame," McCarthy said.
As the Bracys prepare for another Christmas without their daughter, they are urging lawmakers to support McCarthy's bill and dealers to conduct their own background checks.
"Lavern went to the store the other day to buy over-the-counter headache sinus medication and they limited the amount of sinus medication she could buy at one time," her husband said, his voice trembling with emotion. "But Shayla can walk into a store and buy a gun and they could care less. That's got to change."
It'll be tough for these grifting parents to get any money from this. Walmart fights every case against them aggressively and they never settle.
She should sue the government for approving her application. Oh wait. Businesses can be sued but the feds can't be?
Funny how that works.
You beat me to it...was about to post this but kept reading it over looking for just one hint of common sense...none to be found.
She would not be suing Walmart unless it had the money. Unless they broke the law in selling her the weapon throw the case out of court and fine the mother for a frivolous lawsuit.
What's she suing for? The shtogun worked like it was supposed to, didn't it?
Sorry, I have no patience for this lawsuit nonsense!
Mommas don't let your children grow up to be scum sucking, bottom feeding, swamp scum eating lawyers...
This guy should get his facts straight. She wasn't killed. She committed suicide. And it was a shotgun, not a handgun. He also can't conjugate the verb "to be."
Hell, I'm happy when a Wal-Mart clerk knows where the hell the dog food is this week.
Always sad to see grieving parents fighting bad causes in their grief. I have to hope they've got no case.
I have bought four guns from Wal-Mart in the last three years, one rifle and three shotguns. I don't know what the Wal-Mart employees at this particular store did, but I can tell you that the guns that I bought were sold by Wal-Mart employees to me by every letter of the law, and them some. They filled out the forms and made double sure that every I was dotted and every T crossed.
The .22 I bought for my son was the first one, and I purchased it right after the new purchase laws went into effect. The law as I understand it states that if my background check does not come back in a certain amount of time, the store must sell me the gun. I believe that the time stated was three days, and four days later (Christmas Eve) I went to the Wal-Mart to collect my son's Christmas present. BUT, seems that the check system hadn't ironed out all of the bugs, and my background check hadn't yet been cleared. Wal-Mart STILL refused to let me have the gun, citing internal policy way above the mandates of the law, and my boy ultimately got his rifle on January third.
I don't care much for Wal-Mart, but it's employees in my above described case went way beyond the letter of the law in denying me my gun.
I have come to the regrettable conclusion that this mother is willing to trade her daughter's death for cold cash.
Or would that have been Wal-Mart's fault, too?
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.