Crippled by a rogue shot, boy bids to buy up gunsmith's entire stock

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The Independent US

A Californian teenager who was paralysed in a shooting accident a decade ago is hoping to buy the gun manufacturer's entire inventory this week and turn it into a sculpture embodying his hope that cheap, unsafe weapons can be kept off the market for good.

A Californian teenager who was paralysed in a shooting accident a decade ago is hoping to buy the gun manufacturer's entire inventory this week and turn it into a sculpture embodying his hope that cheap, unsafe weapons can be kept off the market for good.

Brandon Maxfield's hopes of prevailing at tomorrow's unusual auction of 75,000 firearms made by Bryco Arms is the culmination of a 10-year battle to seek redress for the pistol shot that immobilised him from the neck down. He also wants to draw public attention to the dangers of so-called "Saturday night specials" ­ shoddily made weapons that appeal to consumers because of their bargain-basement price.

"Most experts agree that they have no legitimate military purpose, law-enforcement purpose, target-shooting purpose, hunting purpose or even plinking [shooting at cans and bottles] purpose," said Brandon, 17. "Their sole justification is armed confrontation between individuals."

Brandon won the first round of his battle with Bryco in May last year, when a California jury found the company liable for endorsing a defective design and the judge assessed damages of $51m (£28m), $24m of which were laid at Bryco's door.

Bruce Jennings, Bryco's chief executive, filed for bankruptcy the next day, which shielded him from the immediate obligation to pay up. He filed not in California, but in Florida, where state laws are indulgent towards debtors. He bought a million-dollar house in Daytona Beach and acquired other assets considered exempt from bankruptcy proceedings. Four years earlier Mr Jennings had told BusinessWeek magazine that declaring bankruptcy was a savvy tactic in the face of product liability litigation. "[Companies] can file for bankruptcy, dissolve, go away until the litigation passes by, then reform and build guns to the new standard ­ if there is a new standard."

But Brandon and his lawyer refused to be defeated so easily, so they started raising money through a website to buy Bryco's assets and stop Mr Jennings reconstituting his company.

Mr Jennings' former foreman, Paul Jimenez, has offered $150,000. Brandon, the only other interested party to come forward, has raised $175,000 but is continuing to urge his supporters to donate more in case a bidding war erupts. The auction will take place in a Florida bankruptcy court tomorrow. The accident that changed Brandon's life occurred when a 20-year-old baby-sitter who was a family friend thought he heard a suspicious noise and grabbed a gun from an unlocked drawer. He called Brandon's mother, who told him to unload the .38-calibre pistol.

The gun's design made it impossible to unload with the safety catch on ­ a feature that Brandon alleges was created intentionally to cover up a jamming problem. As the baby- sitter struggled with the magazine, the gun went off. The bullet hit seven-year-old Brandon in the chin and severed his spine as it went out of the back of his neck. In the past 10 years, he has spent more than 500 days in hospital and has been treated for pneumonia 28 times.

His spine is degenerating, and doctors say a metal rod must eventually be inserted in his neck to support it. But that will limit the mobility of his head, the only body part he can fully control. Among those found liable in last year's judgment were Brandon's mother, who had failed to secure the gun, and the baby-sitter. Since they have no money, about $2m of the judgment is probably unrecoverable.

To date, Brandon has received $8.75m from Jennings's former wife and former business partner, and the insurance company representing the sporting goods company where the pistol was bought.

Brandon describes himself as an ordinary teenager. "He's short on words, likes to dye his hair, listens to music, is into video games, and loves World Federation wrestling," his website says. He has been in mainstream schools for most of the past 10 years.

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