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The Saturday night special handgun long has been blamed for contributing to street violence simply because it’s cheap. Now it’s being blamed for a death because of cheap workmanship. California gun maker Bryco Arms has spent the past three years fending off a suit by the city of Atlanta that accuses 16 manufacturers and trade groups of selling guns with dangerously negligent designs and inadequate warnings. In a new suit filed in Georgia’s Fulton State Court, Bryco Arms will have to defend a product liability suit that claims the poor design and manufacture of the company’s low-cost .380 caliber handgun caused the accidental shooting of a Macon, Ga., teen-ager. This latest suit, filed Jan. 7, is over the accidental death of a 15-year-old shot March 25, 2000, when his older sister dropped her Bryco-manufactured .380-caliber handgun. The gun allegedly hit the dining room table and discharged, shooting William O. Bullard III in the right side of his abdomen just as he was entering the dining room. The teen-ager died that day from his injuries. The semiautomatic handgun was “unsafe and unreasonably dangerous under ordinary use due to the known propensity of the product to discharge when dropped,” according to the complaint filed by Macon attorneys Joel Grist and Kenneth M. Brock of Grist & Brock. Bullard v. Bryco Arms, No. 02VS027125-H (Fult. St. Jan. 7, 2002). According to Brock, Bryco specializes in Saturday night specials that are marketed in poor neighborhoods and cost about $75. Brock says his suit has a narrow focus. “We’re not against guns and we’re not against the Second Amendment,” he says. “We’re against bad guns.” Bryco has not filed an answer to the Bullard suit yet, and its owner, Bruce L. Jennings, didn’t respond to questions faxed to his office. Michael C. Hewitt of Laguna Hills, Calif., who represents Bryco in the city of Atlanta litigation, couldn’t be reached. In a 1994 interview with Public Broadcasting Service, Jennings said his company had filled a void in the gun industry: supplying “millions of firearms legitimately to the vast population of the lower income groups.” He was still in business, he said, because he made quality products that were “safe and reliable.” According to the complaint, Bullard’s 21-year-old sister, Tiffany Hardware, bought a handgun Feb. 10, 2000, at a Macon-area pawnshop. She never fired the gun, a Bryco Model 48, also called J48, and brought it back to the pawnshop on Saturday, March 25, 2000, because she believed it wasn’t working properly, the suit says. A friend of Hardware’s had tried to fire the gun that day at a firing range, according to Brock, but it jammed and wouldn’t fire. The pawnshop told Hardware to bring it back Monday. But Hardware accidentally dropped the gun that Saturday, and the discharge killed her brother. The suit, filed by Bullard’s mother, Linda Bullard, says the gun was negligently designed and manufactured and was prone to discharge when dropped. The manual safety disengaged or failed without warning, the suit says, and the gun had no automatic firing pin safety or other device to keep it from firing when the manual safety failed. Bryco advertised and marketed the handgun as safe when the company knew or should have known of its dangerous defects and its potential to cause injury or death, the suit says. The complaint names Bryco, Jennings and several related companies apparently owned by the Jennings family: Jennings Firearms, B.L. Jennings Inc. and RKB Investments. The plaintiff alleges that the various corporate entities are shams used by the Jennings family to avoid judgments in product liability or personal injury suits, and have no liability insurance.

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