As city authorities prepare today to consider the request of High Bridge Arms to be allowed to sell guns at retail in San Francisco, the Mission District has become ground zero for the larger issues surrounding gun control, raising questions about the right to sell guns, the impact of gun sales on violence, and in particular the impact of gun sales in a neighborhood with a history of violence.
“The Supreme Court gave the people that fundamental right to go buy a gun,” said Chuck Michel, a civil rights attorney for National Rifle Association and the California Rifle and Pistol Association.
The wholesale gun outlet has operated at Mission and Powers since 1988, and now wants to sell retail. The opposition, Michel said, is just “ridiculous,” and he’s offered his legal services free of charge.
The permit hearing is set for 1 p.m. today at the San Francisco Police Department Permit Station on 850 Bryant Street.
Steve Alcairo, the store’s manager, said that he has taken Michel’s offer into consideration but at this point doesn’t feel that the store is being treated unfairly. People have their concerns about the store and they have a right to voice them, he said. Moreover, he remained confident that the community will support him once they hear him out.
The organization Northwest Bernal Alliance sent out a mass e-mail asking its members to e-mail the San Francisco Police Department Permit Office to protest the gun shop. “We’ve been successful in causing delays in the permit process by forcing the owner to comply with the SF Planning Code but the hearing is slated for Sept 8th and we believe unless there is a great outcry from the neighborhood, the permit will be granted and once again we’ll be home to the ONLY GUN STORE IN ALL OF SAN FRANCISCO,” the e-mail read.
The San Francisco Police Department’s crime-tracking service reported 240 gun-related crimes in the Mission within the last three months.
High Bridge Arms’ owner, Andy Tamakashi, bought the store in 1988 and put the current storefront on Mission and Powers. Earlier this year he decided to shut down because it was “too much work and [I] wanted to convert the storefront into an office building.”
Alcairo said that Tamakashi had a change of heart, even though gun sales is a hard business to be in. “This is all he knows,” said Alcairo. To reopen the store, Tamakashi decided to renovate. This area is a retail zone, and Tamakashi had to get a permit to be allowed to sell guns again.
Nearby business owners have mixed feelings. Parawarti Roy, owner of the Copy Center next door, said, “I am totally against it. I don’t even know what to do. Before they only to supplied to the police, I did not feel threatened, but now anyone who wants a gun could go and buy one.”
Roy, who has lived in the area for 22 years, said she doesn’t feel comfortable having a gun shop so close. “We don’t need guns for safety. If someone wants to buy a gun, then they can go buy them at the gun expos.”
Alcairo noted that to buy a gun, a customer must go through a rigorous process that includes a background check, a test and a fingerprint check with the U.S. Department of Justice. “We are the most regulated business. We answer to three agencies: the San Francisco Police Department, the [federal] Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the California Department of Justice.
“If someone wants to have a gun, then they have the fundamental right to have one. The same blanket that grants them the right to speak their mind, the First Amendment, gives us the right to be in business with the Second Amendment.”
Kim Njuyen, who works at the Queen’s Nails, a neighboring nail salon, said High Bridge Arms had been there a long time. Her coworkers nodded in agreement. “A long time, so it is no problem,” she said.
Mission Precinct’s acting commander, Lieutenant David Smith, said that because the gun shop’s orders would be by appointment only, “the presence of the store is not a problem.”