Suicide victim’s mom sues Wal-Mart over gun sale
December 21, 2004
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.
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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 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. Federal law prohibits stores from selling guns to people who, like Stewart, have a history of serious mental illness.