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O.C. Gun Maker Is Set to Open Nevada Plant

Jimenez Arms, whose first gun failed state safety tests, says the move had been planned.

February 26, 2005|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A controversial California gun maker ordered to stop manufacturing pistols that failed state safety tests is opening a factory in Nevada where no such tests exist.

Jimenez Arms of Costa Mesa is the latest incarnation of Bryco Arms, one of the last survivors of a group of Southern California gun makers that critics dubbed the "ring of fire" because they produced millions of inexpensive handguns favored by criminals.

Owner Paul Jimenez -- Bryco's ex-plant manager, who bought the defunct firm last year at an auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Jacksonville, Fla. -- could not be reached for comment. But a critic and legal adversary of Jimenez Arms, which appears to be moving out of its Costa Mesa factory, called the move to Nevada "outrageous."

"He had the choice of fixing the gun and making it safe or fleeing to a jurisdiction that doesn't have these regulations so he could continue manufacturing his unsafe gun," said Richard R. Ruggieri, an attorney for a Northern California teenager who was left a quadriplegic after he was accidentally shot a decade ago by a defectively designed Bryco handgun.

"On a moral level, it's outrageous. This is not about guns being good or bad. It's about horribly unsafe products."

Bryco and founder Bruce Jennings declared bankruptcy two years ago to avoid paying $24 million in court-ordered compensatory damages to Brandon Maxfield, who was 7 when he was shot in 1994.

Maxfield and his legal team tried to buy Bryco at auction to prevent it from being resurrected, but were outbid by Jimenez in August. Though Jimenez said funds for the $510,000 purchase came from various undisclosed lenders, documents show that the bulk of the amount came from Shining Star Investments, a Texas company owned by Bryco's former president -- Jennings' ex-wife. Shining Star has been marketing Jimenez Arms guns to dealers nationwide.

But the production and sale of Jimenez Arms' first weapon, a 9-millimeter pistol, was banned in California earlier this year after the gun failed safety tests at three state-certified labs. At one lab, the gun failed at a rate 15 times higher than that allowed under state guidelines.

"I've tested a lot of guns," said Mac Scott, a former sheriff's deputy and owner of Mac Scott Laboratory in Umpqua, Ore., of the testing conducted at his facility. "And this one, by far, had the most significant number of failures of any gun I've ever tested."

Jimenez Arms recently applied for a business license in Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas. In a recent interview with the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, Jimenez described the move as an "expansion" that had been planned for months.

"Some of the reason is the regulations here in California," Jimenez said.

Tom Sargent, a spokesman for the Nevada attorney general, confirmed that the state doesn't have "anything equivalent to the safety testing that California does. There's nothing to prevent [Jimenez] from coming here and setting up shop."

But Sargent said Jimenez would receive "a hard look."

"Nevada has a pro-business climate, but that doesn't mean we welcome anyone to come here because they want to avoid constraints elsewhere in order to sell an unsafe product that could cause the public harm," he said.

State law bans products deemed to be deceptively marketed, Sargent said.

Given a "complaint or a victim," he said, "it wouldn't be beyond the pale for us to take a look at it in light of" those laws.

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