High Bridge Arms gun store general manager Steven Alcairo displays a rifle at the shop located on Mission Street, which closed in 2015. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Up in arms: San Francisco’s last gun shop concerned about proposal to video record all firearm sales

Steven Alcairo was working underneath his car outside his Visitacion Valley home a little more than 20 years ago when he noticed a man burglarizing his residence.

The proud gun owner slid underneath the car to retrieve his firearm from the nearby tool box.

“I pointed my gun at him and told him to put everything back and to leave,” said Alcairo, 41, describing the 1994 incident on a recent afternoon inside High Bridge Arms. There, he works as the general manager of San Francisco’s last remaining gun store.

Having a firearm for self-defense in such situations, according to Alcairo, is why the majority of his customers purchase firearms at the 3185 Mission St. gun shop.

A customer must ring a buzzer at the gate outside the modest shop and show identification. Immediately inside to the right is an old Irish carpenter-built display case, offering a view of choice handguns. On the wall behind the case hangs an American flag. For self-defense, Alcairo recommends a Glock 23 or a Beretta PX4, both of which cost about $600.

The gun shop has so far survived San Francisco’s gun control efforts — but that may not be for long.

Alcairo worries a new proposal announced last week by Supervisor Mark Farrell would have a chilling effect on business. The legislation, which is expected to come up for debate in the fall, would require the video recording of the purchases of firearms and ammunition and at least weekly transmission of the details of who bought ammo and details of the bullets to the Police Department.

“Personally, I think it’s intrusive,” Alcairo said. He added that “we already have 24-hour surveillance. There are six visible cameras.”

Police currently can request information on the sales, which require background checks, valid California drivers’ licenses and proof of residency.

Guns in the store sell from anywhere from $400 to $3,000. He estimates sales of about 1,000 handguns and 1,000 long guns annually. He says he makes gun sales daily. “I can tell you that 80 percent of them are San Francisco residents.”

Even local police officers buy accessories there. Some memorable sales were to a few judges and a man living at the Four Seasons, who purchased a shotgun, he said.

Alcairo, a San Francisco native, said when he was growing up there were many more gun stores, and pawn shops sold guns too. In 1999, The City’s largest gun shop,
Gun Exchange, on 2nd Street shut down amid increasing state and local regulations. In the 70s, there was Val’s Gun Shop in North Beach. Markell’s on Judah Street near 44th Avenue was once a popular gun shop, and other locations like Dave Sullivan Sporting Goods store on Geary Boulevard, now closed, sold ammo and guns.

Over the years, gun shops have vanished and pawn shops can no longer sell them, leaving only High Bridge Arms. The store was opened by Bob Chow in 1952, operating primarily as a gunsmith. In 1987, it was sold to Andy Takahashi, who before coming to San Francisco via Alaska lived in Japan, where he arranged guided hunts. He owns the gun store building.

Gun violence remains steady in San Francisco. There were 450 gun-involved crimes between January and June, according to incidents logged by police and available on datasf. That includes 92 assaults, 19 attempted homicides, 40 attempted robberies, 283 robberies and six carjackings. There were another 342 firearm-related incidents for things like possession of a loaded firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

As of April, SFPD’s compstat data showed there were 50 nonfatal shooting victims this year, with 54 the same time last year. The data showed 13 people were fatally shot during that period compared to three people at the same time in 2014. There were 112 firearm arrests this year compared to 170 in 2014. Police this year have seized 388 firearms as of April 30, compared to 342 last year.

Gun sales across the state continue to increase. In 2014, there were 512,174 handguns sold in California and 4,272 customers were denied sales, according to the California Department of Justice. There was another 418,683 sales involving long guns and 4,297 denials.

“These gangsters they don’t care. It’s comedy to them,” Alcairo said of regulations like Farrell’s. “Absolutely I think they are trying to run us out of town. It is unfortunate.”

But Farrell argues The City should have the best regulations in place for any gun store. “Easy access to guns and ammunition continue to contribute to senseless violent crime here in San Francisco and across the country,” Farrell said when announcing the law. “Even though San Francisco has some of the toughest gun control laws on the books in the country — there is more we can do to protect the public.”

San Francisco is known as an anti-gun city, as it often pushes the legal envelope on gun control laws. In 2005, 58 percent of the 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 National Rifle Association won the lawsuit to invalidate that law.

But other laws have met with success despite legal challenges. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of an appeal by the NRA seeking to strike down San Francisco’s new ordinance requiring gun owners to lock or disable their weapons when they are stored at home. “I’m gratified that San Francisco’s common sense gun safety law stands, and I’m very proud of my office’s work to defend it. I’m also intrigued to see where this court goes from here to balance gun rights and public safety,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement at the time.

There may soon come more efforts to curb gun violence. The board approved in February the creation of a gun task force, whose purpose is to make recommendations a year from now for reducing gun violence.Crimegun controlgunsHigh Bridge ArmsMark FarrellPoliticsright to bear armsSan Francisco Board of SupervisorsSecond AmmendmentThe Cityweapons

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