On the east side of Lake Merced in San Francisco, you can see people swinging their drivers and woods, chipping their irons and tapping their putters. On the west side of the lake, people are taking aim with their 12 gauges, 20 gauges, over-under and side-by-side shotguns, yelling, “Pull!” and shooting clay pigeons out of the air — at least, they were until April 8.
Let me introduce you to the Pacific Rod and Gun Club, the only gun club in a metropolitan region in the United States and a place where everyone is welcome. The club has officially been forced to move out, evicted by its landlord, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, because of the need for environmental cleanup. A 2011 study found that the top 3 feet of the shooting range’s soil were contaminated by lead shot and clay pigeons — with levels of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene beyond the safe limit for humans. The club had stopped using them in 1994.
I don’t know much about contamination, but the ostensibly unsafe levels of lead and other elements have not been unsafe for club members: Many are over the age of 70, in good health and still blasting clay pigeons with perfect boyhood vitality. I’ve even heard a man north of 90 describe the club as a “lifesaver” and a place that “keeps him young.”
The study is more of a convenient ultimatum than anything else and a diplomatic way to address the elephant in the room: A “gun club in San Francisco” — today, at least — is a paradox.
Letting the Pacific Rod and Gun Club go would not only be a sad goodbye to a good place but would also be a regrettable farewell to a site enriched with culture and history. Additionally, saying goodbye would rob the environment of the benefit it could receive from the example the club is positioned to set for the sporting world: how and why to be green.