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[Laurie Skrivan/AP]

The Business of Guns

Before They Were Conservative Heroes, St. Louis Couple Fought Gun Companies in Court

Lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey won hundreds of thousands of dollars for clients injured by faulty handguns.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey attracted national attention when they stood on the lawn of their palatial home in a gated St. Louis community and pointed a rifle and a handgun at a passing group of Black Lives Matter protesters.

The couple quickly became darlings of some Republican politicians and gun-rights activists, who said the two were simply exercising their rights under the Second Amendment. 

“We’ve got a right to bear arms. We’ve got a right to defend ourselves,” Mark McCloskey told former National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch on her podcast on July 28, after a local prosecutor charged the couple with unlawful use of a firearm. “State law in Missouri and the castle doctrine gives us an absolute right to do what we did.”

The McCloskeys — now embracing their role as mascots for the gun-rights movement — will speak during the opening night of the Republican National Convention on August 24.

But their new profile ignores a significant chapter in their professional histories: The couple, who for decades ran a personal injury law practice in Missouri, litigated numerous cases against prominent gun manufacturers and contributed to the downfall of what was once America’s largest handgun maker. In fact, the handgun Patricia McCloskey brandished on June 28 appears to have been an exhibit used in one of those cases.

In several cases in state and federal courts, Mark McCloskey represented plaintiffs who had been injured by handguns manufactured by Bryco Arms, a gunmaker that became notorious in the late 1990s and early 2000s for producing low-quality pistols derided as “junk guns” by gun-rights and gun-control activists alike. Bryco’s products had a reputation for being used in crimes — and having design defects that lead to unintentional discharges. 

One case, Chronister v. Bryco, ended in a judgment of more than $350,000 in 2001 after Mark McCloskey successfully argued that the company was liable for a defective design that caused one of its handguns to misfire in a man’s hand with the chamber open. The explosion left the plaintiff in the case with shrapnel in his face, hearing loss, tinnitus and temporary blindness.

The McCloskeys’ website says they handled at least two other product liability cases against gun manufacturers, including one that resulted in a judgment of more than $400,000 and another misfiring-gun death case, which resulted in a confidential settlement. 

In 2003, Bryco Arms declared bankruptcy and was sold for $510,000 after another lawsuit, not handled by McCloskey, forced the company to pay $24 million in damages, as The Trace has reported. After the bankruptcy, the company was revived as Jimenez Arms.

The McCloskeys, through their attorney, Joel Schwartz, declined an interview request.

Even as the NRA has been largely silent about the McCloskeys’ case, Loesch and other gun-rights groups and activists, including the Gun Owners of America, have vigorously backed the couple, who they say serve as examples of how to appropriately exercise self defense. “When people do stand up to the mob, I hope that Americans rally around those individuals who do,” Loesch told Mark McCloskey during an appearance on her show.

In the viral video of the McCloskeys yelling at protesters from their front lawn, Patricia McCloskey points what appears to be a Bryco or Jennings Model 38 handgun toward them — with her finger on the trigger.

One of the couple’s former attorneys, Al Watkins, told KMOV in St. Louis that the weapon was not operable because it had been used as an exhibit in one of the couple’s cases. Watkins, who no longer represents the McCloskeys, told the news station that Patricia McCloskey knew it wasn’t able to be fired. A video attributed to Mark McCloskey, published by the investigative media outlet Reveal, shows a similar Bryco handgun misfiring during a safety test.