SASKATOON -- A Saskatoon head shop owner is asking customers to briefly remove their face masks upon entry after he was robbed by armed suspects earlier this month — an altercation that ended with him staring down the barrel of a gun.

“It could have been my life that was taken. I don’t really care about the stuff,” said Jeffrey Lundstrom, owner of Skunk Funk Smoker’s Emporium.

Lundstrom said he was working at the shop on Dec. 1 around 6 p.m. when five people came in “acting erratically” — all but one wearing face masks.

He said he asked them to leave, but was met with resistance. One of the suspects then pulled out a knife and began approaching him but Lundstrom said he was able to chase them out of the store after pulling out his own knife.

They all ended up outside the store and that’s when Lundstrom said the gun was pulled out.

“If I wouldn’t have had weapons in my store to protect myself, that could have been a whole lot worse,” he told CTV News.

While Lundstrom has no major injuries, he was left with a couple of bruises and a fractured rib after running into one of his display cases during the altercation.

Now, Lundstrom is asking his customers to briefly remove their face mask when they come in the store and show their face to one of the video surveillance cameras.

“I don’t want to get sick but I don’t want to get shot either, anything we can do to avoid that and keep everyone safe,” he said.

Under Saskatchewan’s mandatory public health order, face masks are required in all public indoor places.

However, the Ministry of Health said there are some exceptions, including ”where the short-term removal of the face covering is necessary for the purposes of identifying a person.”

It’s a move Lundstrom said isn’t political but rather for public safety.

“We’re not anti-maskers, so we’re not trying to go against the establishment, we just want to keep ourselves, our staff, me safe while we work,” he said.

While this is the first time his store has experienced something like this, Lundstrom said robberies and stabbings are common in the area.

“That’s the neighbourhood we live in. There are dangers to having a business, clearly, and then they give people the ability to put a mask on, now they can hide who they are, increases the risk.”

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) said while people are harder to identify when wearing masks, it hasn’t affected the investigative work officers do.

In this incident, a 13-year-old boy was charged, police said.

SPS said face masks don’t appear to be affecting the crime rate — criminals were wearing face coverings before the pandemic, so not much has changed in that sense.

Timothy Kang, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed, adding that while masks provide a “veil of anonymity,” it’s important to think about the larger context.

“Wearing a mask might have something to do with increasing people’s perception that being in a store, they might be faced with greater opportunities for shoplifting for example,” he said

“But when we contextualize what’s going on around the mandatory mask mandate, we also have things like limiting the amount of people that go into a store, so in that case we have actually a decrease in the opportunities for crime.”

However, Kang said there is a possibility that larger factors surrounding the pandemic could impact some crime rates.

“With the pandemic in general, there’s been job losses, higher unemployment, things of that nature that may lead to an increase in financial crime.”

For Lundstrom, masks are a safety concern and he said he’ll continue to do what he can to keep everyone safe.

“This stuff is happening and if we don’t do something, it might happen more.”