Shayla Stewart, a manic-depressive and schizophrenic, assaulted police officers and was arrested for attacking a fellow customer at a Denton, Tx., Wal-Mart where she had a prescription for anti-psychotic medication, the Associated Press reports. Her parents say another Wal-Mart 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. She maintains that clerks should have known about her daughter’s illness or done more to find out.
AP says the case “has reignited a debate over the confidentiality of mental health records and the effectiveness of background checks on would-be buyers of guns.” Pharmacy prescription records are confidential under a 1996 federal law, so stores cannot use them when deciding whether to sell a gun. 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 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. Michael Faenza 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. Faenza said it is not right “to make social policy based on just a few cases.”