High Bridge Arms, the city’s only gun shop for more than a decade, will be closing its doors at the end of the month as a result of new regulations passed earlier this week that manager Steve Alcairo said violate the privacy of his customers.
“I think the notion of reporting my identity and what I purchase privately from a business to the police department is an invasion of my privacy,” Alcairo said. “When is it gonna stop? By the time you have regulations against something that is protected in your rights as an American, what kind of breathing room do you have?”
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved regulations Tuesday that will require all gun dealers to videotape firearm sales and report sales of ammunition to police. The legislation would also require that dealers send weekly reports to the police on ammo sales.
Because High Bridge Arms has been the city’s only gun store since 1999, employees said the legislation targeted them and forced them to close — a fact that was not lost on the bill’s sponsor.
“If as an ancillary effect and benefit we lose the last remaining gun store in San Francisco, I believe all of us will be better off,” said Supervisor Mark Ferrell at the board meeting Tuesday. He said he hoped the new legislation would prevent loss, theft, and trafficking of firearms and ammo from dealers and give the police better tools to “prevent crime and keep our neighborhoods safe.”
Those at High Bridge Arms, however, say new regulations are useless.
“You could go to Daly City right down the road, South San Francisco where those laws aren’t enforced,” said Jonathan Lopez, a former Marine and an employee at High Bridge Arms. Lopez said regulations aimed at gun stores are useless because criminals don’t buy firearms legally.
“The guns are still out there illegally, the criminals aren’t buying them here,” he said.
Even in the wake of mass shootings that have reignited the national debate on guns, Alcairo said regulations do not stop criminals from breaking the law.
“Let’s say we have fifty thousand regulations, let’s say we have one hundred thousand regulations — What difference do you think that would have made [for past mass shootings]? It’s like taking pop shots,” he said. “‘Those regulation didn’t work, so let’s make more.’ It’s like taking pop shots in the dark.”
California has a history of enacting strict gun regulations. In 2005 it passed Proposition H, a ban on the possession of handguns and the manufacture and distribution of all firearms and ammunition. The measure, which had the support of 58 percent of voters, was eventually struck down after an appeal by the National Rifle Association.
Alcairo says this is the last straw, however, and that recording the transactions in his shop and sending information to the police would be a betrayal to his customers.
“I refuse to not be there when someone comes through my door,” he said. “I like the idea that I’m behind this counter, knowing what I know, doing it as long as I’ve been doing it, that I’m guiding this person correctly in terms of what they need to buy.”
In September the store announced it would be closing, eventually citing the newest round of regulations as the reason. The gun shop has existed in some form or another for 63 years. Olympic shooter Bob Chow opened a store there in 1952, and in 1987 the current owner Andy Takahashi bought the business, making Alcairo manager in 2005 and leaving him in charge of day-to-day operations.
Now, the shop’s gun racks are empty. Only a few rifles are lined up on the stands or boxed on the floor for delivery. Containers of ammo sit in a safe marked “Explosives,” but the only products left in significant quantity are the t-shirts reading “High Bridge Arms, San Francisco’s Last Gun Shop.”
“It’s a shame they’re closing,” said Mike, a long-time customer at the shop. He praised Alcairo’s management style and said the staff were more engaged when compared to those at other Bay Area gun stores.
“He’s always taught these guys to be a lot friendlier,” he said. “‘How can I help you? What can I do for you? What is the purposed of what you want this gun for?’ There’s all kinds of questions that they ask, whereas some guys [in other stores] just look at you and they’re kind of waiting in the background like ‘Do you want something?’”
“[People] come here because they want to support us,” said Lopez. “We’re local, we have good customer service, and we work harder, we know what we’re talking about.”
Lopez says he’s received multiple job offers from customers, ranging “from UPS to Homeland Security,” though he’s not sure he wants to stay in the gun selling businesses. He may accept one of the offers, or return to school, though he’s not sure what he would study.
And Alcairo has a child on the way. His wife is expecting a daughter in January, and despite his impending unemployment, he says he’s not worried about his future.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of months, we have no idea,” he said. “But we’re really not too worried about getting by. Maybe I have too much blind faith in something, but I’m pretty confidence we’ll make it. We’ll be fine.”
He plans on staying in San Francisco, but knows that means finding another source of income.
“I’m going to have to seriously start looking for a job,” he chuckled. “And looking after my family. Because it’s not a cheap city to live in.”