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L.A.’s Arms Race of the Affluent

In Beverly Hills, even the purchase of a firearm comes with certain…expectations. The city’s only gun store, Beverly Hills Guns, is a “concierge service” by appointment only, for a largely affluent clientele. And business is booming.

Since opening in July 2020, the store has seen upscale residents from Santa Monica to the Hollywood Hills increasingly in a panic following several high-profile smash-and-grab and violent home invasion robberies. The apparent siege has brought in a daily stream of anxious business owners and prominent actors, real estate moguls and film execs, says owner Russell Stuart. Most are arming themselves for the first time.

“This morning I sold six shotguns in about an hour to people that say, ‘I want a home defense shotgun,’” says Stuart, whose store is discreetly located in a Beverly Hills office building, with no sign on the doors, down the hall from a diamond dealer. “Everyone has a general sense of constant fear, which is very sad. We’re used to this being like Mayberry.”

That fear has the wealthiest of local gentry contemplating every more elaborate security measures: armored luxury cars, safe rooms and bullet-proof glass in their homes. One client asked about creating the “Tony Stark-level” security of a half-dozen automated drones to hover over his house, says Stuart, whose gun store is part of his larger security company, Force Protective Agency. “If you want the Gucci package, it’s going to cost money.”

The security business is experiencing a rebound after a couple of diminished years because of the pandemic. Some firms had their on-site security guards sent home for health and social distancing reasons. Not anymore. In Beverly Hills, the craving for additional security dates to the riot that followed an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in May 2020, with unprecedented looting along Rodeo Drive that left broken boutique windows beneath beloved luxury brands: Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Michael Kors, MCM, Ermenegildo Zegna. Last March, a $500,000 Richard Mille watch was stolen at gunpoint from a diner at the Il Pastaio restaurant. The Dec. 1 home-invasion robbery and shooting death of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, 81, in her Trousdale Estates home, only accelerated the arms race among the affluent.

“Beverly Hills is definitely a target,” says security expert David Perez, CEO of Omega International Group and a former Marine who previously worked security in the Clinton White House and at the Pentagon. “We’re telling clients, ‘Hey, don’t go out with flashy jewelry. Try to keep a lower profile. Instead of driving the Bentley, maybe just take the SUV. “

Or hit the streets in a luxo ride retrofitted with countermeasures like electrified door handles, run-flat tires and armor plating that can withstand military ordnance—say, the $650,000 Mercedes-Benz S680 Guard, which can repel assault rifle rounds and the detonation of hand grenades, or the $1 million tanklike SUV from Latvia’s Dartz Motorz Co.

With more than 2,000 cameras already deployed throughout the city, Beverly Hills has also hired two private security firms to patrol neighborhoods alongside police. “Whatever the police have needed, fortunately we’re a city that we can write a check and get it,” says Todd Johnson, president and CEO at the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. The city and its population are fully aware that they’ve become an inviting target.

“If you’re going to steal a $400,000 watch, are you going down to San Pedro or are you going to go to Beverly Hills?” While supplementing police with private security can have an impact in smaller cities like Beverly Hills, it’s less practical in Los Angeles, which “has way too few police officers,” says Alan Nissel, an assistant professor of law at Pepperdine University and the principal at the Wilshire Skyline property management and development firm. “Many of our residents are petrified,” he says of the company’s high-end apartment buildings and short-term residences, which stretch from Hollywood to Beverly Hills and Malibu. A manager at one of his Santa Monica buildings was recently held up at knifepoint. “Every single building that we manage has had private security services provided because of upticks, and we’ve never used private security firms in the past.”

On Nissel’s street in West L.A., a number of WhatsApp neighborhood watch groups have agreed to collaborate in the event of civil unrest. “They designate people to block the streets with private cars and surveil the streets,” Nissel says. Some of his most progressive colleagues are arming themselves, including many who “never held a weapon, never considered holding a weapon, but now feel like it would be irresponsible not to.”

Major celebrities at peak fame who require full protection can spend more than $1 million a year on security, say multiple experts, including one-on-one by oversized security muscle, a tactic that Perez dismisses as an “amateur mentality.” Being physically fit is a given for his personnel, but only one of several requirements that also include skill and improvisation. (Think Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, not the bouncer at your local nightclub.) “It’s not just, ‘I’m a big guy and I can push my way out of here,’” Perez explains. “You have an entry plan and exit plan, because things aren’t always as smooth as you think.”

At Beverly Hills Guns, Stuart instructs his clients on the law and encourages them to visit shooting ranges in L.A. County to better understand their weapons. Customers also ask for help in securing a concealed carry permit from the County Sheriff’s Department. The simplest security option for many will always be a $350 shotgun, as available to the average citizen as to the very rich, but “I don’t want everyone out there just panic-buying,” says Stuart, who proposes establishing a shooting range in Beverly Hills.

Regardless, he knows many new gun owners will fail to get any training at all. “We’re going to have a lot of guns out there in a lot of untrained people’s hands.”

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