San Francisco's Last Gun Store Closing With Final Burst of Controversy

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Customer Chris Cheng at High Bridge Arms, San Francisco's last gun store. (Sam Harnett/KQED)

Steven Alcairo has been making headlines. And gun safety advocates are not happy about it.

Alcairo is the general manager of High Bridge Arms, the last gun store in San Francisco. In September he announced the store would close rather than comply with proposed regulations that would require him to videotape gun sales and report ammunition purchases to the police.

Alcairo says the possibility of these measures upset customers and prompted the closure.

"I'm not doing that to our customers. Enough is enough," Alcairo told the Associated Press, one of many news organizations to jump on the story. “Buying a gun is a constitutionally protected right. Our customers shouldn’t be treated like they’re doing something wrong.”

Supervisor Mark Farrell and gun safety advocates say Alcairo's spin on the story does not add up.

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Farrell says it does not make sense to blame his proposed regulations for shutting down High Bridge Arms. He says there is no evidence his regulations would hurt the store's bottom line. His measures have not taken effect or even been voted on yet. He doesn't see how they could force a store out of business.

“I would suggest that there are other issues going on,” Farrell says.

This is not the first time High Bridge Arms has been the center of attention in the city. The Mission Street store has been in business for decades, and its status as San Francisco's last gun shop has made it a symbol in the debate over gun regulations.

High Bridge Arms opened 63 years ago in Bernal Heights, a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified around the small one-room shop. The owner, Masashi Takahashi, closed the store once before -- briefly in 2010. He was thinking about renting the space out. When Takahashi decided to start the gun shop back up, people in Bernal Heights tried and failed to block it from reopening. Now, five years later, Alcairo says Takahashi is closing for good.

The store announced on Facebook that it would close. A post said the shop was shutting down for “a variety of reasons.” Alcairo says the owner is not closing because of a lack of income -- business has been good. He says it is more about the hassle of running the store and following the city's gun regulations. Takahashi is in his 70s, and Alcairo says he's just done with it.

Gun enthusiasts inside and outside of the city have tied the store's closing directly to San Francisco's gun regulations. Customers of High Bridge Arms, such as Chris Cheng, are pointing fingers at local politicians like Mark Farrell.

“They just want to make San Francisco a gun-free zone, a gun-free city with no gun shops,” Cheng says.

Allison Anderman is an attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She says the story is being spun to make regulations look like the bad guy, putting an independent store out of business.

Anderman says, “There is a small but very vocal minority of guns rights advocates who will use something like this to support their position that regulation of guns is bad.”

When it comes to the regulations that would require videotaping, Anderman says San Francisco is not doing something unheard of. It is already the law in Santa Cruz County, the city of Campbell and a handful of other jurisdictions in California.

Wal-Mart, which sells more guns than any retailer in the country, also videotapes sales. Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick says that practice has not hurt the company's business.

Nick says, “This is the kind of thing where people understand. It's a common-sense measure.”

Back at High Bridge Arms, employees are restocking the shelves with ammunition. Much of the store's merchandise has already sold out. The place is pretty empty. Cheng looks around at the nearly bare gun racks.

“Here in San Francisco, this is the only place to talk about firearms in a community setting,” Cheng says.

He will miss that. But gun owners in the city will still be able to get firearms, Cheng says. They will just have to drive a little farther. Or order them online.