Bryco .380 (courtesy gunauction.com)

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: the vast majority of negligent discharges are a comedy of errors. Or, as is too often the case, a tragedy of errors. One after another. In this case, it started with a stalker. “In 2000 Tiffany Hardware turned to a family friend who owned a pawn shop for advice on getting a gun for protection,” ajc.com reports. “According to Lloyd Bell, one of her attorneys, Hardware worked at a call center at night and had been frightened when someone followed her to the home she shared with her daughter, her mother and her brother.” Family friend? Methinks Macon pawn shop owner Ronald Richardson ain’t so friendly no ‘mo. Here’s what went down . . .

Hardware paid $89.95 for a new Bryco/Jennings pistol [not shown] that Bell said Richardson had bought “in bulk” a year earlier.

According to testimony, a few weeks after buying the gun a friend tried to fire the gun but it jammed. Hardware took the gun back to Richardson, who at the time was working at a liquor store he also owned.

See how that works? First, Ms. Hardware chooses a $90 gun. Next, she buys it from a guy who admits the main reason he stocks the gun is that he got a deal on a job lot. A guy who owns a liquor store.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in a gun for anyone who wants one. Or two. Or more. As the commercial says, chef don’t judge. If someone wants to make, buy, possess and/or carry a cheap ass gun, so be it. But anyone who does so gets what they don’t pay for: safety, reliability, accuracy, customer service, etc.

Richardson tried but failed to move the pistol’s slide that was locked in place. He removed the magazine but there was a live round in the chamber and the gun was cocked.

Richardson returned the gun to a zipped case and told Hardware to bring it to the pawnshop the following Monday, when his “gun guy” would be at work and could look at it, according to testimony in the week-long trial.

So Richardson, the gentlemqn who sold Hardware the hardware, wasn’t a “gun guy.” Warning bells much? Quick break for some background on the 9mm Jennings/Bryco pistol via Mr. Saturday Night Special at bryco-jennings-jimenezarms.com:

Bryco Arms/Jennings Firearms Bryco Arms was one of the so-called “Ring of Fire” manufacturers of Saturday Night Special firearms that operated in and around Los Angeles, California. It produced firearms branded as Jennings Firearms at its Irvine, California facility and branded as Bryco Arms at its former Carson City, Nevada facility and at its Costa Mesa, California facility.

Bryco Arms went into bankruptcy in 2003 as a result of losing a lawsuit filed in Oakland, California, which resulted in a jury award of a record $24 million judgment against it. The lawsuit stemmed from an injury to a 12-year old who was attempting to unload the 380 ACP version of the Bryco Arms Model 38 and pulled the trigger with a round still in the gun. An ensuing accidental discharge resulted in paralyzing a young boy named Brandon Maxfield. The jury ruled that the pistol had a design flaw, in that it had to have the trigger pulled to de-cock the striker after unloading the semi-automatic pistol.

Many, if not most, semi-automatic pistols with external hammers utilize a similar design, which has found widespread use since early Colt Firearms first used this method around 1905. Notable among pistols which require hammer decocking is the standard US Military issue pistol for over 70 years, the Colt M1911.

Comparing the Bryco M59 to a Colt M1911 is a bit of a laugh. What happened to Ms. Hardware’s 14-year-old brother is not.

Later that evening, Billy Bullard was shot in the stomach when Hardware dropped the gun as she was putting her purse and other items on the dining room table. Hardware and a friend rushed the teenage boy to the hospital but he died while his sister cradled him.

You’d be forgiven for wondering if someone’s finger was on the trigger at the time of the fatal gunshot, given that most modern guns are drop-safe. This one was manufactured by the pre-2003 Bryco Arms, exact vintage unknown. Which is kinda important. Bryco Arms recalled the Model 38 in 2001 for “drop safe” issues.

Bottom line: it’s entirely possible the bullet left the gun when Hardware’s bag hit the table. A costly occurence for all concerned.

Hardware also sued the owner of the company that made the gun, now-defunct Bryco Arms. She won a $2.2 million default judgment against Bruce Jennings, the owner, because he did not appear at trial.

Then the jury decided after about seven hours of deliberations that Richardson owed her $6 million. Another $1.4 million in interest was added. Richardson did not respond to a telephone message left Tuesday afternoon.

State Court Judge Wesley Tailor ordered both sides to negotiate a settlement to avert an appeal of the award.

The judgement will most likely get walked down to something a part-time gun dealer/part-time liquor store owner might be able to pay, should he live long enough. As for Bruce Jennings, I doubt they can touch him after all these years. Meanwhile, it looks like the jury doesn’t think personal responsibility for gun safety is a thing at the low end of the market. Well, is it?

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47 Responses to Jury Awards $9m Payout for Saturday Night Special Gone Wrong

  1. Lots of problems with everything in this case. It is impossible to make the world safe. This simply amounts to a liability lottery.

    Perhaps the “system” is not as broken as it seems, as one of the people primarily responsible, the seller who fiddled with the gun, and left it loaded, it is claimed, is the one held financially liable.

    Fortunately, these sort of accidents are exceedingly rare.

    • It’s quite possible that all persons mentioned in this article would have been a lion snack if they have lived in the era when Darwin ruled the day.

    • Never in my life thought I would hear this or even agree with it! LOL As ugly and blocky (with their blowback action) as they are, they do seem to be extremely reliable and are actually drop safe.

    • Seconded. All reports are that it’s very reliable, and if you empty its seven shot magazine, it can be employed as a highly effective club.

      • Thirded I guess. I put my $100 dollars on the line to try out a highpoint. It goes bang when I want, doesn’t when I don’t and actually hits the things I point it at. I bought some magazines and a holster so I can see how it does in an IDPA match, because I do things like that.

  2. Very strange that the shop owner was MORE liable than the manufacturer. BRYCO should be taking 100% of the blame on this one.

    • No. Tiffany Hardware should be taking 100% of the blame on this one. She loaded it and was the last person to handle it.

      But that’s my opinion on most product liability issues. You buy a cheap piece of sh!t, you get what you pay for, and in the case of firearms that can be deadly.

      Caveat emptor.

      • Yes and no. Richardson sold Hardware a known recalled product which happened to get someone killed from the very flaw it was recalled for. I’m honestly surprised that Jennings could be held accountable for anything considering the company had been dissolved after already being sued for the recalled gun.

  3. She buys the gun, she loads the gun, she mishandles the gun, kid ends up dead, and its the LGS’s fault? Dude needs a better attorney.

      • I can see Bryco being liable if the malfunction and discharge occurred as stated. And it’s possible, but… given that the owner doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea how to safely operate a firearm, it’s also possible that the jam itself was operator error rather than mechanical defect. I’m trying to understand what the exact sequence was:

        1. The gun is loaded and chambered.
        2. A friend tries to fire the gun, but it jams.
        3. The magazine is removed, but the slide is apparently stuck with the hammer cocked.

        Why was the hammer still cocked after trying to fire the gun? What kind of ‘jam’ was it exactly if the slide couldn’t be racked, and the gun couldn’t be fired previously?

      • Under strict products liability law, all entities in the chain of distribution are liable for a defect in the product, starting with the retailer as the last link in the chain and moving up through distributors/wholesalers and ending up with the manufacturer. So for example, if our car has a faulty airbag, you can sue one and all, or just sue the dealership and let the dealership sue the entities above it for indemnity.

  4. Based on the previous case precedent mentioned in the article it seems like anyone who needs a quick buck should go out and buy a XD or Glock and shoot themselves with it, since they can’t be decocked without firing as well.

    • My thoughts exactly. When was the last time Glock got sued for a cop accidentally shooting himself when cleaning or unloading it?

      Most modern striker guns require the trigger to be pulled to decock the striker for takedown.

      I don’t get this, is it because it was a ‘cheap’ gun? It could’ve happened with with a $600 XDM if someone were so inclined.

      • And if any of those guns suffer a similar failure glock s&w etc would be just as liable. As it stands though a discharge on those pistols resulting in injury will almost certainly be a case of ND not mechanical failure. So yeah, it is largely because it’s a cheap gun.

  5. To me this is mostly operator error. If Hardware had followed rule 2 (never point the muzzle at something you are not willing to destroy) this would not have happened. Also, if I ever had a gun that somehow got a live round locked in the chamber, and I was not able to safely clear it myself, I’d be taking it to a gunsmith.

    That said, I also think most gun users in this day and age have a reasonable expectation that any modern gun is drop-safe. Does that expectation apply to something you bought for $90 when the floor for a decent pistol is $300 at the very least? Would you expect a run down 80’s junk car you bought for $400 to have safety features comparable to even a 2012 Hyundai?

    • The problem with Rule #2 is that it’s not always compatible with carrying a firearm on your person. With pocket carry, appendix carry, shoulder holster carry, you’re going to be flagging yourself or others depending on how you’re sitting or standing at a given time. I guess the saving grace is that most modern handguns cannot fire without the trigger being pulled.

    • In case you didn’t catch it that’s exactly what she was doing. It was in a case ready to go to the sellers “gunsmith ” when available. To avoid an ND would require going above and beyond typical carry or gun handling protocol. Not that that is unreasonable but such a failure when not fixable on site presents specific problems for transportation. Better handling could have prevented the death but not neccisarily the ND or property damage.

  6. Isn’t this an ancient ruling resulting in Jimenez arms buying Bryco/Lorcin and moving to Nevada? And making zymak paperweights. It’s an insult to compare HiPoint to this s##t.

  7. “According to testimony, a few weeks after buying the gun a friend tried to fire the gun but it jammed. Hardware took the gun back to Richardson, who at the time was working at a liquor store he also owned.”

    Hm. Well, if he also owned a tobacco shop, he could have named it “Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.”

    Start a fire extinguisher company as well and it would be “Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Really Big Fires”

  8. Playing Devil’s advocate here but if Bryco issued a recall
    (to be fair it’s still unknown which model the gun was) than
    I think naming Bryco as a defendant was a bit of a stretch.
    If there was a recall then I would fault the shop owner
    for either not knowing or not caring that he was selling
    defective equipment.

  9. She brought a defective product, stuck in an unsafe mode, back to an owner/manager of the retailer and he told her to take it home with her in that condition?
    Methinks he should have taken it to the pawn shop after he pulled the magazine.

    • He may not have known there was a live round in the chamber. The owner probably came in and said it was jammed and asked him to help. He’s not the “gun guy” and he looked at it but the slide was apparently stuck solid, which makes it pretty hard to know whether or not a round is in the chamber…

      In this case I can certainly understand suing the manufacturer but don’t like to see the retailer sued for selling a product that is legal and presumed to be safe to use. I don’t see any reason to believe that the retailer should have some sort of special knowledge of the product that extends beyond the consumer’s knowledge and unless there’s specific evidence to the contrary that shows he knew they weren’t safe products but sold them anyway I don’t see how you can assume willful negligence on the part of the retailer.

    • That echoes my view. I once took a friend with a jammed (cheap) .22 semiauto to a gunsmith I knew. The guy wasn’t in, but his assistant, who took the weapon and examined it, was. He decided he wasn’t trained/knowledgeable enough to deal with it, and handed it back to my friend. I blocked the move and told him that since as an employee of the gunsmith he had accepted and examined the weapon — and agreed it didn’t appear to be safe — it was going to stay at the shop until it could be handed back to us safe. No way was I going to, or allow my friend to, haul around a weapon that someone even slightly more knowledgeable than we were had decided wasn’t safe!
      That was one of the interactions that led to the gunsmith becoming a friend: when we went back the next day, he agreed that I had been quite right, told his assistant so — and went directly to work, starting my double-zip-tying the hammer so it couldn’t move.
      And it’s that last that makes me agree the shop owner was liable: he didn’t take any action at all to make the acknowledged unsafe weapon safe. He could at least have done what a hunting friend of mine did in the field once: put a wad of chewing gum over the firing pin so it couldn’t be struck!

  10. I know it’s heresy to say this on this site but there are people who should not own a gun. Hardware apparently had no training or experience of firearms and she bought a pistol that requires real attention to handle.

    I’ve owned Ravens and Jennings, et el. They all have a real weakness, asides from their crappy QC. Once you chamber a round they are cocked and they have no external hammer. Basically they have a firing pin with a compressed spring that’s just held in place with what amounts to a metal spur. A cheap metal spur. If that little piece of metal wears or breaks, it can happen, the gun goes boom.

    With no ammo in the room, or the same zip code, rack the slide on one of these little wonders and with or without that joke of a safety on slap it good with your hand. 50/50 chance you’ll hear a snap of the firing pin slamming forward.

    • Well you see, this works of the presumption that a new firearms owner should be aware of the particularities and internals of every complex product they buy.

      This is like saying that I should have known about the problems with the Takata airbag in my car before the defects and recall were widespread public knowledge.

      Besides, NO gun should discharge when simply dropped. If it can fire with less than 2Gs of drop force, it’s not a safe, functional firearm, period.

      • A new firearm owner should at least know the basics of safe firearms handling and transportation. Apparently she was lacking in some of those basic skills or her brother would still be alive.

        Carrying a malfunctioning weapon with a chambered round around and then dropping it makes me believe she was very casual in her approach to safe gun handling.

        I don’t call for tactical training for every new gun owner. But knowing the basics of safe gun handling is a must.

        As for the gun not being drop safe. There’s a reason that company went under. The real culprit here is the pawnshop owner selling junk guns at a cut rate and then sending her home with a malfunctioning and loaded gun when she brought it to his attention.

        The final decision was hers to carry that weapon around and her brother died for it.

  11. The jury ruled that the pistol had a design flaw, in that it had to have the trigger pulled to de-cock the striker after unloading the semi-automatic pistol.

    Like a Glock. Yes, requiring a trigger pull to field strip a pistol is a design flaw.

  12. So wait, the gun was recalled and sold to her by a pawn shop (who specialize in secondhand, surplus, used items) and yet Jennings was still somehow responsible? What else could he possibly have done to prevent people from being injured?

    The case should be appealed. Obviously the court didn’t care about the law and just wanted ‘justice’ for the kid.

  13. I had a Jennings J22 and a Davis Industries 380. I got rid of both of them when the J22 fired while racking the slide at the range. Pretty sure it ended up in the roof.

    Go ahead and tell me I pulled the trigger. LOL.

  14. The jury ruled that the pistol had a design flaw, in that it had to have the trigger pulled to de-cock the striker after unloading the semi-automatic pistol.

    If that ruling, “finding,” of the jury is clearly cited as a basis of the award, the damages awarded would seem highly vulnerable on appeal. I have no idea why a jury would be instructed on that issue, because it surely would not be necessary in order to find liability. In addition, the problem wasn’t that ‘the trigger needed to be pulled after unloading” but rather that the firearm could not be unloaded. The finding is absurd.

    As for the liability of Richardson, it exists on three different widely accepted legal principals which are barely worth reviewing. The gun sale was a UCC transaction, he is “a dealer in the goods,” he thereby makes certain implied warranties, and he knew it, and should have known the pistol was unfit for the purpose….which is why he probably bought the lot for pennies. He viewed the item as unusually dangerous (based on his own testimony) and therefore would be strictly liable in most states. He was the last person who could be reasonably be expected to protect Mz. Hardware against a danger which he, as seller, and inspector upon return, was competent to observe. (This liability principle first appeared in a case against United Airlines in the ’70’s in connection with failure to check an altimeter during installation, though it had a factory defect: “The last actor that should reasonably be expected to check the altimeter’s function.” The principle has been broadened since then. I’m not going to look up the citation.)

    It would take some astounding argumentation to convince me Richardson did not know he was handing back to his customer a defective firearm in extremely unsafe condition. He knew she was not knowledgable, and indeed sought his advice for a purchase. I would suppose he realized it was even more dangerous than he was willing to handle over the weekend, the only motivation that could lead a dealer to hand it back to the customer in such a condition. He must be an FFL, and could simply have receipted the gun and sent her on her way.

    And obviously Mz. Hardware was oblivious. I have no idea what form of joint/shared liability rules they have in Georgia.

  15. oh my god, that poor woman. what a total tragedy. lets not be dumbass cold hearted SOB’s hellbent on defending every aspect of a gun in every situation. lets just call this what it is. a horrendous tragedy.

    • Not everyone came to the table with smarts in hand; there’s plenty of negligent blame and ignorance, along with some greed, to go around here with all the players – some more, some less – except the kid who died.

      I’m surprised the demented Moms haven’t latched on to this yet to shout out more trope about ‘evil’ mean guns taking another child’s life.

  16. The moment the seller handed it back to her with the assumption that it was unloaded, it was on him. It was his assertion by doing this that he knew what he was doing. The liability threshold goes down when you’re selling something that could be that dangerous. She looked to him for professional expertise and he gave it falsely, in my opinion.

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