Interview with Bruce Jennings

Bruce Jennings


Founder of B.L. Jennings Firearms, and Bryco Arms, manufacturers and wholesalers of inexpensive firearms located in southern California.

Q: How did you get started in this business?

Jennings: During the '60s my dad was quite successful in manufacturing those aerospace components as a job shop. But, political uncertainties in California moved the aerospace industry to Texas and left him without a product line. So, he searched the market and decided that he wanted to be a firearms manufacturer.

"I think our main contribution has been we have supplied millions of firearms legitimately to the vast population of the lower income groups....we've filled the void that the other American manufacturers had failed to do so for many years" ....at that time there was a void that was created by the legislation of 1968 that banned the import of small handguns. And my father recognized that, and decided that he should start producing a similar type of product because there was an available type of market for him. And he became involved in designing and manufacturing and used a facility that he owned from the aerospace industry to leap into this industry. And he did very well.

Over [the] course of twenty-five years he built approximately 3 million of one particular handgun. And that handgun was the Raven .25 caliber pistol. And very few handguns that have ever reached one million in production. Especially one model without changes.

Q: Why don't we know him (your father)?

Jennings: Well, our family was very quiet. We've been very quiet all of our lives. And we don't want recognition. We just want to be in business and, you know, manufacture, sell guns, and make a living like anybody else. Our dream was, you know, to be successful in business which we've been. And we didn't want to be political....

Q: Why do you want to be so private?

Jennings:...We're just ordinary people living ordinary lives... We're just minding our own business, and concentrating on manufacturing sales of firearms. It's a legitimate business. It's an interesting business, and we enjoy it. Each of my family members either participate in their own business or participate in businesses that I'm associated with.

It's been handed down-- this is the third generation, I'm the second generation, my children are the third generation, and my children and my ex-wife Janice Jennings own the Bryco Arms Facility. And they have manufactured about two million handguns since 1988. And they are very successful in what they do. My purpose of involvement is I purchase these firearms and distribute them throughout the United States, and I also export firearms....Our main stay is selling within the United States...European and South American markets are opening up quite rapidly at this point. I have reason to believe that our sales will probably be 50% export within the next year and a half.

Q: What has your family's contribution been to the gun industry?

Jennings: I think our main contribution has been that we have supplied millions of firearms legitimately to the vast population of the lower income groups. And by supplying these firearms at affordable prices, we've filled the void that the other American manufacturers had failed to do so for many years.

Q: How many guns has your family sold...

Jennings: Oh, I would take a guess of upwards of ten million.

Q: So, the gun industry has been very good to you?

Jennings: It's been excellent to me. Right now it's not excellent but in the past it had been. Experiencing the results of the gun legislation that was passed three years ago. The assault weapons ban, which has tremendously modified the licensing scheme that was established in 1968. It made it more difficult to get licenses for dealers. It put fear into the public that was purchasing the firearms. It made confusion between police departments and federal agencies on what the regulations really said.

The laws were poorly written and subject to interpretation. And as a result, many people that wished to buy firearms decided that it was not in their best interest. The laws intimidated many purchasers. They felt that it was just another way of the government interfering in their private lives and as a result of that they elected to not purchase firearms.

The less expensive firearms companies suffered the most. The more expensive companies did better. Many cities and states put taxes on the transaction. Sometimes you would buy a gun for seventy or eighty dollars and your tax would be fifty additional dollars. And the tax was designed to create background checks and arrest records for the potential purchasers. We have reason to believe that none of that money was ever used to do background checks. The law did not provide for a background check, it provided for the ability to do the background check. So many cities decided it was a nice way to create tax revenues. And as a result people weren't interested in paying a fifty dollar tax on an eighty dollar gun. But if they were buying a five hundred dollar gun, and it had a fifty dollar tax, it seemed a little more fair.

Q: One thing that's interesting is that your family is so completely associated with [this industry]...you founded.. you developed...you really largely control this industry. You own many of the companies that produce the affordable handguns...Why is it that your family controls it so much?

Jennings: Well, we have very small margins. What we do is we've made our livings by volume not by margins. Margins have been good in the early '80s. They were good in the late '80s, but in the mid '90s they are nearly nonexistent. The concept of making three or four dollars a gun in profit that you can keep is the goal of some of our competitors. We can't function on three or four dollars a gun. We need to make you know, maybe twenty-five or thirty dollars so that we can support the gun throughout its life expectancy, which is a very long time. Life expectancy of a firearm can be hundreds of years. Where it's not, it's not a consumable; it just goes away six months after you purchase it.

Q: When you mean support it, you mean pay for litigation that comes from it?

Jennings: Well, I mean support it by replacement parts, warranty repairs, and litigation. One of the biggest problems of the firearms industry circles around product liability insurance.

Q Is the litigation connected to gun manufacturing just the cost of doing business?

Jennings: Yes, it's a very large cost of doing business. That cost is an unforseen number because of the number of years that you need to support the insurance for that product. Even though you may have sold the gun last year or two years ago, you may be facing litigation and product support fifteen or twenty years into the future. And even if the company is no longer building firearms in quantities, let's say it's, downsized to where we're at today, we still have to have enough capital available to support the product liability, litigation and claims.

Q: Talk about some of your guns.

Jennings: Well, this is a J-22 pistol. This is a little .22 pocket pistol. It's very small and it's the same category that the Raven pistol was. This was the pistol that I designed myself when I left Raven. And what this is, it's a reproduction of technology that has existed throughout the century. But it was redeveloped into modern manufacturing. This pistol, we've probably built about two million of these since, since it was originally designed and built. A little .22 pistol. Very similar in size and shape to what my father had done in his .25 caliber line. This is what started my company.

Q: It's interesting. You broke away from your dad's business, started up your own...company, competing with him.

Jennings: No. I'd never competed with him. My father was building his line of guns, and he was very well-established, and he had saturated what we'll call the .25 caliber market. And he had a price point that he was at. And that price point, his selling point, was... in the low thirty dollar range. When I came out with this gun, I did not compete with him. But I complemented his line, because this gun went on the market at like forty-seven dollars, which is 35 percent higher than his. And it was in a different caliber. So when I introduced this gun, his sales did not waver. They did not fall. They did not change. But what it was my product that I was proud to introduce. And he and I ran parallel companies. And we remained friends and happy with each other. This gun [is] just fractionally larger than the little .22...This is a .380 caliber pistol. And it's basically the same design, only it's been beefed up, it's been strengthened. And it also became extremely popular. This is one of our better products. People like it for self-protection, because it's large caliber. But it's also fun to shoot, you know? It has quite a whop, makes a lot of noise, and it's fun.

And again, the reason this gun is popular is because it's priced for the working class citizen. It's priced affordably so people could afford to buy the gun and the ammunition without spending over two or three days wages. Many guns of this caliber cost a week's wages. It costs, you know, three hundred dollars. This gun here would retail today at about maybe a hundred and twenty-five, a hundred and thirty dollars. An excellent value.

Q: Your guns sell for a lot less than a Colt or a Smith & Wesson. How are you able to do it so cheaply?

Jennings: Well, Colt and Smith & Wesson has an older philosophy than ours. And theirs is to manufacture the gun and then finish it independently one by one using filing and fitting. When we design a part, we design it so that the part is universal between all of the firearms that are identical to it. So if we make 500 firing pins, it will fit in 500 guns, and they're totally interchangeable between each other.

Now, Smith [& Wesson] may not have that luxury because they're using machining centers, they're using heavy castings. They're doing a different process. They're using a lot of steel, they're now converting a lot of plastic, because technology is overcoming their processes. Our processes are now going towards the Smith & Wesson, towards Smith & Wesson's design. And someplace we're going to meet in the middle. They're coming down to our price ranges, and we're going up to their price ranges.

Q: Doesn't that cost you an enormous amount of money?

Jennings: It costs a lot of money. It costs a lot of research. But if you could amortize that money over the vast volumes of firearms that we've produced, it becomes cost-effective...This gun is still made out of zinc. But it's long, it's heavy, and it's a .22 caliber...this is a much more sophisticated gun with more features. The tooling for this, the modifications, is several hundred thousand dollars. But we've already paid that. And this gun exists.

So, if they change the laws to where this gun here would be illegal, we now have this one to replace it with. And this is a standard firearm for a sportshooter. It's a .22 caliber target pistol. They can't call this a "junk gun." They can't call it a "Saturday Night Special." They can't call it anything except a sporting pistol. It has no other purpose except for sportshooting.

And this puts our company in a different light. It puts us in the light of being in the family shooting arena. And we've created rifles. We have a youth rifle of .22 caliber. We have this .22 caliber sporting rifle. And we're gonna have a whole new generation that kids that remember Jennings as the first gun that they bought. The gun that they learned to shoot with. And the gun that they learned to shoot with may be the gun that they purchase as an adult, that they keep at their home.

Q: You seem to be on a crusade, almost.

Jennings: This is the gun that I'm hoping that the young people and the shooting enthusiasts will buy. Because it's a target gun, it's fun, it's inexpensive. This gun retails at a hundred and sixty-nine dollars. And that is a bargain in this firearms market. I expect that this gun will probably sell three or four thousand units a month. This one particular gun.

Now, many, many people will buy this gun, love it, and eventually they may say, "Well, I want a larger caliber gun." And then they will come in and they'll buy one of our larger guns. This gun here... is a nine millimeter gun. Now, it shares a lot of the other features. It's got the adjustable sights. It has a general look. But this particular gun is a nine millimeter version. And it's very powerful. It has a staggerbox magazine with thirteen rounds. And this gun here is designed not for sportshooting as much, but for personal protection. It's a very powerful firearm.

Q: How much does it cost you to comply [with legislation] per gun?

Jennings:...We're complying with the requests of these anti-gun individuals early, so that we can alleviate their argument that our guns don't comply. So every firearm that we're building now is on the agenda to be converted to comply with any and all new legislation that is considered...It may only cost a dollar to comply, per gun. But the tooling is quite significant. Now, the tooling was designed to be universal between all the models of guns. For example, if we built the adjustable sight system, that cost us about $50,000. But now to put that on each of the guns, it may only be a few cents per gun. And we're real happy to introduce adjustable sights. If they're not a safety feature, as the government may represent, but it is a convenience item, and it is a sales tool. And people do enjoy adjustable sights.

Q: A lot of people see the proliferation of guns-- legal and illegal. But it is the illegal, criminal guns that scares people the most. And then they see that you've created millions of guns and made them available to people very cheaply, inexpensively...And they think that you have somehow contributed to the problem.

Jennings: Oh, I don't think we've contributed to any problems. Like any company in the United States, we have the right to produce firearms to people that can legitimately buy them. And we've been doing this for twenty-five, thirty years. It's an important aspect of our country that everybody gets to buy products, not just the privileged people. And our products have always been priced and produced in quantities so that everybody can afford to own our products. The concept that our guns would be used more in crime is incorrect. Our products are used the same as anybody else's products.

Q: So, you say that there's no difference between the likelihood that one of your guns would end up in a crime and a Smith and Wesson would end up in a crime. That it's just "a gun's a gun" in terms of its likelihood to be used in a crime.

Jennings: Well, actually, I believe that maybe some of the other companies may have higher rates than we do. Our guns have traditionally been light, small caliber guns, and they're not really the type of gun that one would use to intimidate or scare a victim. But a large gun, a very large gun would perform that task better. And therefore the criminal element has chosen large frame guns for that purpose. More so than our small products.

Q: What about [Lorcin], which is one of the few companies that isn't somehow connected to your family.

Jennings:...Well, when Lorcin came into business, he did the appropriate things. He manufactured a gun, he sold it, and he did not violate any of laws that we were aware of. So, unfortunately we ended up with a very aggressive competitor. And his actions have always been legitimate, however very harsh at times. And he has kept the market, and inexpensive handguns, artificially low for at least three or four years.

Q: What do you mean artificially low?

Jennings: I mean that there is a level of profitability that needs to be sustained over the long-term in order for an industry to be healthy. This industry has become unhealthy over the last three or four years because of competition keeping the prices very, very low in the inexpensive handgun market. And, most of these activities were created by the Lorcin company; their company logo is "The world's most affordable guns." And he stands by that strongly and as a result of that the industry has not been able to go forward and maintain profitability.

Q: I guess there's a general impression out there that some people feel that you're about volume, making as many guns as possible, making them as cheaply as possible. And you are less concerned about the gun once it leaves the site.

Jennings: Well, we've been at this so long that we're real concerned about the gun leaving the factory. When the gun leaves the factory it has to be right, it has to be correct, and it has to be appropriate for its usage. If it is not, our long-term success is very short-lived. The people that come into the industry and produce junk will be out of business in four to five years from the time they start. That's how long litigation takes.

Now, we've been doing this for many, many years. We're still in business because we're responsible. We're taking care of our customers. We're building the appropriate products, and they are safe and reliable. So, we're not having those types of problems.

Q: There is this general impression out there that the guns that you produce, are more likely to show up in crime than other higher end guns, more expensive guns. Why do you think that impression is out there?

Jennings: Well, the impression [that] is out there is wrong. The impression is created by misinformation that has been circulated. That misinformation started probably about six or seven years ago and that misinformation has been repeated, and repeated, and repeated. Once the misinformation was created, we've been unable to stop the proliferation of that misinformation from continuing. Still to this date, they're quoting ten year old statistics and most people believe that these statistics are current and up to date.

Q: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms says that the guns from Southern California -- from the less expensive handgun manufacturers-- are between three and four times more likely to show up in a crime, or more likely to be traced than a more expensive gun? Isn't that proof that your guns somehow are more associated with crime?

Jennings: Well, you know, we had heard this and about three months ago took some actions to run an investigation ourselves. And what we did was we purchased from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms a complete unadulterated computer list of every trace that they had ever produced up until the end of 1996. It was a vast file and it was on an old style computer tape disk. They were fourteen inch diameter reels with magnetic tape on it that runs on a mainframe computer.

We took those disks and we sent them to [an] outside service company and we had those transposed into modern legible CD disks that work in PC computers. And we hired a company to take and review those statistics. And the statistics that that company has supplied us do not support nor do they match up with the official statement that ATF has been making.

We are very suspect of the information ATF has been supplying, and the records that we have created from their database clearly do not support their theory that our guns are used more in crime.

Q: What have you done about it?

Jennings: Well, at this point we've taken all other data from their computers and we have analyzed it and...we have processed it in our computers and we've asked it precise questions.

And the questions that we have asked it are questions that the media has always purported. "How many times are your guns used in crimes versus the old line American Companies?"

And this computer data has been very clear and very precise. It appears to be approximately equal.

And if that data is correct as we reviewed it, I think that ATF has been providing a disservice to the media in providing erroneous information based upon political activity.

Q: What would happen to your business if the current Saturday Night Special legislation that Barbara Boxer is sponsoring was enacted?

Jennings: Part of me would say that it would increase my business quite handsomely because the competitors would go away, the prices would stabilize. We have taken measures at the Bryco factory to create the engineering and the tooling to create the products that would then become legal.

The difference between our current products and our new products are small and subtle yet very effective in complying with the new laws as she's purported them.

Q: A lot of people are read this legislation and it sounds like they are just trying to help you make your guns safer. What's wrong with that?

Jennings: Oh, there is nothing wrong with anybody asking us to make our guns safer. The problem is that the legislation that is being proposed has nothing to do with safety. It only has to do with size, weight, and cost. If a gun is larger or if it weighs more, those are not safety issues. And if it costs more that is not a safety issue.

An adjustable site has nothing to do with the safety of a gun. The addition of a target trigger has nothing to do with the safety of a gun. The materials of the frame or the melting point of the frame have nothing to do with the safety of it. Safety is inherent in the design of the firearm. It is inherent in the care of manufacturing.

The first and most important thing about safety is having manual safety. Having drop test safeties. So, that if you drop the gun it may or may not go off. Making sure that all your characteristics of the firearm are safe by nature and by having a legislative group say, "Well we don't think your gun is safe because it's not six inches long," or "We don't think it is safe because it is not heavy enough." Or having them say that "We don't think it is safe because it doesn't cost enough." These are absolutely wrong.

In fact, we would even propose to Congress legislation that would have to do with true safety measures.....the kind that will keep accidental shootings from happening or injuries that are caused from defective merchandise... I stand by the fact that we've been in business for three years. We're doing a proper job. Our guns are safe.

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