It was a relatively mundane day on Jim Fletcher's family farm in the Arkansas hills until he decided to test out his high-powered 19th century Mauser rifle. Fletcher, a prolific Christian writer and Bible prophecy essayist, was eager to shoot the recently purchased antique gun for the first time.
Not far from a pasture where he hauled hay as a kid, he lifted the rifle barrel into the heavy air of the Ozarks and squeezed the trigger.
The gun exploded in his face, destroying his right eye. His facial bones shattered, and he was left covered in blood.
On his return to blogging after a string of painful reconstructive surgeries, Fletcher uttered not a word of self-pity. He told his followers, "Truly, the Lord wants redemption for all. He is so good to us."
The longtime book editor purportedly found out soon after the accident that the misfire was no Act of God.
He claims in a Palm Beach County lawsuit that Delray Beach-based Century Arms—known as one of the most prominent U.S. importers of surplus firearms—had distributed the gun with the wrong model and ammunition profile.
Century Arms’ import label for the gun indicated that it was an 1898 Mauser equipped to fire an 8x57mm bullet. It was actually an 1890 Mauser tailored for 7.65x53mm bullets, according to the lawsuit.
That might not seem like much of a discrepancy. But it cost Fletcher half his face, he says. The oversize ammo that he used (relying on the incorrect label) caused the explosion.
The lawsuit alleges that Century Arms is "a sophisticated international arms dealer" and should have recognized that the gun was the 1890 Mauser based on appearance alone. The 1898 model — a more broadly adopted design — is readily distinguishable, according to the lawsuit. Both guns hold a place in rifle history and persisted in military use as late as World War II.
Fletcher’s attorney, Gary Fox at Stewart Tilghman, tells New Times his client was in no position to discover the error on his own.
"He's not one of those NRA nuts," Fox says. "He likes antique weapons, but he's no gun expert. He bought the 8mm ammo because that's what the stamp said."
Century Arms’ attorney declined to comment on pending litigation when reached by New Times.
According to Fox, the company has deflected blame onto the gun shop that sold Fletcher the weapon. Fletcher has a separate lawsuit pending against the shop in Arkansas state court. He had initially brought his claims against Century Arms in Arkansas as well, but his lawyers opted to move the case to Florida to avoid an appellate tussle over jurisdiction.
As the litigation plays out, Fletcher is handling his recovery with resolve. "He's trying to get on with his life, to make a living writing," Fox says.
Indeed, the Christian blogger resumed producing essays for the End-of-Days-themed Rapture Ready website within a month of the accident. Returning to his often divisive themes, he warned of Muslim immigrants entering the United States and lamented what he sees as the generational erosion of support for Israel and the dilution of old-time religion. Peppered in there are notions that the End of Days is near, and that those who don't support Israel could be headed for righteous hellfire.
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Indelicate views aside, his past days as a book editor come through in his work. It's tightly written, with a free-flowing rhythm and nary a typo.
His tone can soften around Christmas: One essay quotes the Doors line “No one here gets out alive,” as Fletcher extends his hand to those who have lost loved ones around the holiday season.
After the death of a family member right before Christmas last year, he wrote: “We must count our blessings . . . . We do not mourn as the heathen mourn. And especially at this time of the year, we are not living well if we do not give thanks for all we have.”
Attorney Fox tells New Times that after taking on the case, he spoke about Fletcher’s predicament with doctors who serve with him on the board for Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, a local charity. The consensus was that Fletcher’s prospects of attaining full sight are thin. “There's nothing else that can be done," Fox says.