Brandon Maxfield was 7 when a gunshot left him paralyzed. At 17 he can't ride a bike, play baseball or chase lizards, as he liked to as a child. But he can read and learn—he earned near-perfect grades at his tiny Willits, Calif., high school—and he dreams of becoming a paleontologist. "I'm a pretty optimistic person," he says.

He's also good for a fight: In an Aug. 12 court auction, Maxfield hopes to buy the company that manufactured the gun that injured him, and then he plans to melt its inventory of gun parts in a furnace. Through his Web-based nonprofit Brandon's Arms, he has raised $175,000, $25,000 more than the highest existing bid. "He's a very determined kid," says his mother, Susan Stansberry, 35, a nurse, whose husband, Clint, 43, acts as Brandon's full-time caregiver. "He has been, ever since the day he was shot."

Stansberry was out paying a bill when a 20-year-old babysitter, hearing a suspicious noise, grabbed the .380-caliber Bryco handgun the family kept in a drawer to ward off mountain lions from their remote home. The sitter was trying to make sure the chamber was empty when the gun accidentally fired a single bullet that tore through Maxfield's chin and severed his spine. In May 2003, an Oakland jury—finding that the gun's design was faulty—ruled Bryco had to pay Maxfield $24 million in damages. (His parents—who also have two other sons and a daughter—and the babysitter were also found partially liable, though they were not required to pay damages.) Brandon collected $9 million (now kept in a trust), but a day after the judgment Bryco founder and CEO Bruce Jennings filed for bankruptcy, making it difficult to collect damages.

Bryco's Jennings calls Brandon's effort a "cute little scheme" designed to profit Maxfield and his lawyer, who would be able to sell off all the firm's physical assets while leaving the company's three remaining employees in limbo. "They're destroying an industry," he says. If Maxfield had the ability to shrug, he would. "I just want to get those guns off the street," he says, "and keep other people from getting hurt."