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Supervisors unapologetic for triggering last gun shop closure

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Larry Lowdermilk visits High Bridge Arms — The City’s last remaining gun shop, which plans to close on Oct. 31 — while visiting on business from Tennessee. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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Larry Lowdermilk, 65, walked into High Bridge Arms on Wednesday afternoon asking for a T-shirt from those working behind the counter at San Francisco’s last remaining gun shop, which is about to close down amid new gun control regulations.

Visiting the Bay Area for remodeling work, Lowdermilk said he heard about how the gun shop at 3185 Mission St. planned to shut down on Oct. 31.

He said he wanted to bring the item back to hang up in a local gun shop in Collierville, a town in Memphis, Tenn., as a warning.

“It’s to remind everybody that walks into our store that it could happen there,” said Lowdermilk. The shop was sold out of T-shirts — and nearly all its guns. But he did receive a High Bridge Arms paper target.

He added that he had his truck stolen on a job in the Bay Area. “We don’t have that back home,” he said. “Could it be that we got our pistol in our back pocket and they don’t know who is armed?”

But San Francisco is no Tennessee, where, Lowdermilk said, “We are quite proud of our guns.” In 2005, San Francisco voters passed Proposition H, banning the sale of firearms and ammo and outlawed possession of handguns by all city residents except law enforcement officers. The law was struck down by the courts under a challenge by the National Rifle Association.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee approved Supervisor Mark Farrell’s legislation that would require videotaping of all gun sales and the weekly reporting of ammunition sales to the Police Department.

When first announced in July, High Bridge Arms employees told the San Francisco Examiner they worried it could mean the shop would close. And not so long after, owner Andy Takahashi told employees he would indeed shut down. The store was opened by Bob Chow in 1952, operating primarily as a gunsmith. In 1987, it was sold to Takahashi, who before coming to San Francisco via Alaska lived in Japan.

Farrell had no apologies Wednesday for triggering the closure of the gun shop. Up until now, it had survived the increasing number of gun control regulations adopted by The City that had contributed to the closure of other gun shops.

“At the end of the day I would much rather see a preschool, a coffee shop, a senior center or some other neighborhood-serving entity that contributes to the vitality of our city in its place,” Farrell said. “If that’s the result of the legislation, as a city we are going to be better off for it.”

Supervisor Katy Tang agreed. “So be it if our last remaining shop closed down here in San Francisco,” Tang said. “I think that our city will be better for that.”

Those comments didn’t sit well with Jonathan Lopez, 26, a former Marine who was born and raised in the Mission neighborhood and who has worked at the gun shop for more than a year.

“I think it’s sad,” he said. “It’s a big part of history, especially for Chinese Americans. Bob Chow founded this place and the man was a legend. He was the first Chinese American to compete in the Olympics for shooting. He taught John Wayne a few things because he was on set on some of his movies.”

Lopez added that Chow “was a world renowned gunsmith. He was the first one to fit a Colt Python barrel onto a Smith and Wesson frame.”

Farrell argues that his legislation is about public safety, but critics question the veracity of his claim.

“Look who is shopping here. Do you see any criminals? Those guys, they don’t shop here. If anything, he’s just inconveniencing people,” Lopez said. “They are just going to drive a little further and buy the exact same thing. They actually will probably save some money because Dick’s Sporting Goods [in Daly City] sells cheaper than us.”

Tang and other supporters of the restrictions said if San Francisco passes the law it could promote other municipalities to follow suit.

Allison Anderman, a staff attorney with Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, praised Farrell’s legislation. “It will help law enforcement solve crimes, it will keep gun store employees and purchases safer, and it will get guns away from people who should not have them,” Anderman said.

More gun regulations could soon follow throughout California as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is backing a “Safety for All” initiative for next year, which would among other things treat ammunition sales like firearms sales requiring background checks.

Farrell’s legislation is expected to be approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

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