Law catches up with shoddy gunmaker

In 2011, we told you about Bryco Arms, a "Saturday Night Special" gunmaker which knew its products were unsafe, and which declared bankruptcy to avoid paying lawsuit damages to teenage victim Brandon Maxfield. This week, the gun company's proprietor, Bruce Lee Jennings, was arrested and charged with possession and distribution of child pornography: "Agents say Jennings even admitted he knew the children in the videos were 'real children who had been sexually abused,' but ... said he 'did not feel guilty'." [WFTV. Hat tip: Mike Harkins, who is readying a documentary about Brandon's case based on his earlier coverage]


  1. Arguably: “Law against something entirely different from what first earned him public ire catches up with him”.

    As much as I’m going to be shedding zero tears for this guy, I always get a trifle nervous whenever one starts heading in the direction of “Person A is a bad dude for reason B, Person A is charged for offence C, Ah, it finally caught up with him.” 

    It makes me nervous for two reasons: One, it hews dangerously closely to the “There are good people and bad people, and my job is to find something that the bad people are guilty of so I can get those animals off the street.” attitude that blights law enforcement in some areas. Two, it tends to obscure the crimes for which justice never did catch up with them…

        1. Apparently I was a complete asshole in former life.

          I mean, this one too, sure, but math suggests I needed some kind of head start.

          1. “Karma” is always used in a self-justifying way: it’s the reason people use to do something nice and it’s the reason why bad things happen to others. It’s never used as a reason to do something bad or to explain why good things happened to someone.

  2. Sounds to me like the law caught up with an unremorseful pedophile, who just happens to be an unremorseful firearms manufacturer with dangerous products.

  3. He may be a scumbag pedophile, but he made useful, extremely popular, inexpensive guns.  There was nothing wrong with the Jennings pistols, and they are still popular today, when you can find one.  The whole “unsafe gun” thing was a witch-hunt by anti-gun people.  The whole point was to put a gun manufacturer out of business, and they lied like hell to do it.

    As a pedophile, he should be remorseful as hell.  As a gun maker, he had nothing to be remorseful about, since his guns were a) inexpensive; b) functional; and c) not dangerous, and thousands of Jennings owners will testify to that.

      1. Evidence for the claims made is unavailable, afaict.  Competing analysis of acknowledged facts, however, is.

        This link provides a basic viewpoint from the other side of the issue.

        Essentially, the firearm in question lacked a magazine safety which prevents discharge when the magazine is not present.

        Magazine safeties are controversial.  Most sophisticated gun owners point to their functional compromises; they invariably make the pistol less finely accurate by screwing with trigger feel.  Many others, over the last couple of decades specifically including buyers for many big police departments, consider them mandatory since, in a struggle for the firearm, a knowledgeable owner can simply drop the magazine to render the pistol unusable to the person who is trying to wrest it from the officer’s control.

        Historically, most semi-auto pistols have been built without them.  (You might be surprised at the number of “safety” features that compromise finer points of function and are entirely missing from firearms of a certain age, say, pre-1960s.)

        The compassionate me feels strongly that a negligent discharge resulting in the grievous wounding of a 12-year-old is a heartbreaker of such magnitude that I’m willing to look for someone to blame.  The gun guy in me then points out that the kid pointed a loaded gun at a part of their own body and pulled the trigger; the outcome was hardly surprising.  Whatever the right response to the situation, though, demonizing the pistol or maker is wrongheaded.  For a parent to allow a tweener access to a firearm then neglect to teach the child how to safely clear it is unforgivable.  Putting a gun company out of business because of the ignorance of a child or the incompetence of a parent, though, is overreaching.

        If you accept that self-defense is a right then it’s a right that poor people deserve to be able to exercise, too.  If that’s the case, then simple and inexpensive firearms have a legitimate place in the world.  I’ve used Jennings pistols decades ago and they were technologically primitive even then, their design being about on par with a fine-quality Colt from between the world wars.  However, they were serviceable and affordable.

        I think the court decision was wrong.  YMMV, obviously.


      “Jennings Firearms was another brand name for the company’s products, having been started in 1978 by Bruce Jennings as an earlier incarnation of what became Bryco Arms, but which also remained a recognizable brand name for Bryco Arms for many years even while Bryco Arms used its own brand name for firearms. Possibly most known for producing the both popular and yet infamous Jennings J-22 pistol in .22LR caliber.”

      Bryco Arms was one of the manufacturers of so-called Saturday night special firearms that operated in and around Los Angeles, California, all of which were descendants in some way from George Jennings’ Raven Arms. It produced firearms variously branded as Jennings Firearms at its Irvine, California facility, as well as under the brand name of Bryco Arms at its former Carson City, Nevada facility, and at its Costa Mesa, California facility.

      So while Jennings owners might be thrilled, that was not the brand name of the gun involved in the incident, and was an entirely different weapon.

      And hey look the company is still in business, this was just an attempt by a business owner found guilty in a court of law to avoid paying the court.  While one can claim wrongdoing on the otherside just out to get this poor excuse for a human being, he is the one who went bankrupt to avoid paying what he owed.  It would seem you could maybe just maybe spread some of that hate around.  Sometimes the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply and isn’t the reason things happen.

      Since he seemed to not give a shit that children were being abused for his pleasure, it does seem easier to view him as someone who wouldn’t give a crap if he was selling a defective weapon as long as he was getting paid.


  4. To clarify the point that is the most misunderstood: the defect was not that the gun had no safety, or that the safety had to be moved to the non-safe position. The defect was that after discovering the gun had a feed problem caused by poor engineering and sloppy manufacturing, and that the feed problem would cause the gun to jam, including when the slide was manually cycled with the safety on, Jennings changed the safety design so that the user could not cycle the slide with the safety on. He hid the defect — the feed and jamming problem — from the user rather than fix the problem itself. That was the defect, and his action to hide the defect is the major finding in the case.

    A product that does not function correctly — whether it’s a car that doesn’t steer properly, or a coffee grinder that suddenly grinds on its own when it’s top is off, or a gun that doesn’t properly feed cartridges from the magazine into the chamber — is a defective product, and a manufacturer that does not correct a defect when it is made aware of it is liable for any injuries it causes. A manufacturer that knows about a defect and works to hide that defect can in some cases be found criminally negligent.

    It’s a straightforward, logical law, and no manufacturer that cares about its place in society and cares for the safety of its customers would willfully not correct a defective product, except people like Jennings, who sold millions of his guns with that defect. And, point of fact, the majority of responsible, knowledgeable hand gun owners and users in this country know and agree that Brycos, and the early Jimenez Arms guns (which were exactly the same) are poorly made, from inferior materials, and have a history of problems which range from jamming and coming apart while in use, to firing on their own, the most recent event happening in Florida three years ago on a gun range, where a Bryco went into full auto mode — untouched, while it was on a table pointed down range — and wounded three people.

    The attorney who tried the Maxfield v. Bryco case had no ties to any anti-gun organizations or interests, was not financed or backed by any anti-gun interests, and to this day has no ties to any anti-gun interests. It was a four-month trial and at least one of the jurors owned and used guns.

    And it was a unanimous verdict.

    1. Hmmmm.  All good points, to which I can variously respond “Yes”, “No”, and “Sorta”.

      I’m not saying your analysis is wrong but I would like to point out that there are other ways to interpret the facts.  To wit:

      Many firearms are designed so that they can’t be cycled with the safety applied.  This comes up mostly in bolt-action rifles and it’s a nuisance, requiring extra care in clearing the weapon if it must be cycled to be unloaded.  In pistols built like this (there are few these days but such designs were common pre-WWII), the potential for a negligent discharge is increased and the easiest way to mitigate against that would be to include a magazine disconnect safety.  None was present.  Then again, these things were being built to a price point, a not invalid approach.  If it’s OK for poor people to have guns to defend themselves, then affordable guns need to be available.  (That, btw, is a long discussion that I shouldn’t get into; I’m a bit of a gun snob and dismissive of cheap guns so I’m hardly the best advocate for pot-metal crap.  I respect its right to exist but not much more than that.)

      I must completely disagree with the notion that a firearm that doesn’t feed cartridges from the magazine to the chamber is defective.  That process is highly ammunition-dependent and the accepted standard in the industry is that straight ball ammo is the only stuff that should ever be expected to feed perfectly through all semi-autos.  Even some pricey guns will fail even that basic criteria, though.  It’s common for a right-out-of-the-box pistol to just not work.  Normally the fixes are simple and either the store gunsmith or the manufacturer will make the situation right in short order.  A blanket condemnation of such firearms as defective ignores the current and reasonable state of the art.  Yes, as you say, knowledgeable gun owners consider these pistols to be radically downmarket products.  That, however, is not the same as defective.  For example, I have an EAA Witness Elite Limited in .45.  That’s a very high quality, expensive pistol.  Yet, it has a very short-cut leade.  Long-ogive premium defensive ammo will jam the bullet into the rifling causing an out-of-battery stoppage that requires a strong man or tools to clear.  I don’t consider the pistol defective, however.  It’s a pure target pistol, meant to shoot ball ammo through paper targets and in that role, it’s a wonderful piece.  Just because I can load it with ammo that doesn’t feed and jams every time doesn’t mean the pistol is defective by ANY reasonable stretch of the imagination.

      Your example of a pistol going full-auto without being touched is sensational but entirely useless.  Olympic free pistols have been known to fire without being touched if the temperature at the range changes too quickly.  Many, many, many finely-tuned and expensive target pistols have been known to go full-auto when the gunsmith who built them cut a little too close to safe tolerances for sear engagement.  That example really cuts no ice.

      Yes, the verdict was unanimous and yes, it’s not a good thing when a gun maker builds something to absolute minimum standards.  When you do that, you accept that sometimes manufacturing slop may stack all the tolerances the wrong way and a truly defective gun may go out the door.  You hope, if you’re building such firearms, that such guns will be returned for warranty replacement and that, in the meantime, no one will point a loaded one at an innocent party and pull the trigger while trying to unload the gun, violating all the 4 basic rules of gun safety at the same time.

      In this case, a(n admittedly) crappy pistol was loaded and pointed at an innocent when the trigger was pulled.  Yes, it wouldn’t have happened with a more expensive, better designed piece but I still maintain it’s a stretch to blame either the gun or the manufacturer for an injury when the immediate cause of the injury was that someone pointed a loaded gun at a body part and pulled the trigger.  What other outcome could reasonably be expected?  What gun maker could reasonably anticipate a user would do something that ignorant AND (and this is critical) be expected to somehow design the piece such that the described actions don’t cause injury?

      Does this mean that everyone who makes cruder products to meet the needs of customers with little money should be put out of business?

      Must all cars be engineered and built as well as BMWs?

      The verdict was unanimous but I have always felt it was misguided.  I understand quite well that others, obviously including the jurors, might look at the same facts and reach a different conclusion.

      Thanks, btw, for filling in a number of facts that I failed to put in my earlier post.

    2. Edit: blahblahblah

      I should talk less. Anyway, Jennings guns are pretty shoddy, even by “cheap gun” standards.

      And a quality firearm is a good thing to have.

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