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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The whole business began with a backyard barbecue.

Tim Terral, a 50-year-old cable-company worker and recently elected city councilman in Needles, on the rural eastern edge of California, planned a cookout for some buddies who live just over the state line in Arizona.

Nobody wanted to come. Under California law, they couldn’t bring their loaded firearms across the state line, so they all decided to stay home.

“They’re ex-military,” Terral explained. “I guess those guns are like security blankets.”

But for Terral, the incident was more ammunition for simmering resentment among many of the 5,000 residents of the San Bernardino County town that’s 550 miles and an entire political culture away from the state capital in Sacramento.

Like many inland Californians, Needles residents say they’re held hostage by state legislators who are too liberal and want too much control over their lives. They gripe about strict gun laws that, they say, trample their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

So Terral fought back. He spearheaded a resolution, passed in July by the council, that declared Needles a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” a place where both California gun owners and those visiting from out of state can expect lenient enforcement on Golden State’s rules governing, for example, ammunition and concealed-carry permits.

Terral even chose wording to take a swipe at Democratic legislators in Sacramento, and in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, who have declared “sanctuary” policies limiting the involvement of state and local law enforcement in the pursuit of undocumented immigrants targeted by the Trump administration.

“With the gun resolution, I purposely chose the word ‘sanctuary’ to take a stab at all the liberals,” said Terral. “It was a little jab in the eyes.”

Needles residents insist they don’t want a Wild West city where gunslingers rule. But they do want to make it easier for interstate travelers who pull off U.S. Interstate 40 for food and fuel to avoid a felony arrest if a traffic stop produces a loaded but legally registered gun from outside of California. They also want Sacramento to amend a recently enacted proposition that bans gun owners from bringing ammunition from other states, effectively requiring the state’s gun owners to buy their ammunition in California.

Needles Mayor Jeff Williams, a former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, grumbles: “I have to drive 140 miles to Barstow to buy ammunition when right across the border in Arizona, there are a dozen gun stores.”

Williams, who carries a Glock 45 9mm pistol, which he says “will throw a big brick at somebody,” is soliciting support from various state border towns—including Yreka, Truckee, Blythe and Eureka—to support interstate reciprocity with legal gun owners who possess concealed-weapons permits outside of California.

“When Sacramento passes a new law, they look to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They don’t come looking to small towns like us, and it’s time we made our opinions known,” said Williams. ‘We realize changing state law is pretty far-fetched, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to stand on principle.”

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, a Republican representing the largely rural 33rd District that includes Needles, supports the town’s gun-sanctuary declaration. He plans to introduce a bill in December to give more local control to rural gun owners and allow for interstate reciprocity with firearms laws.

Teresa Trujillo, Obernolte’s chief of staff, said her boss supports more local control for the state’s rural residents—even though Republicans are a decided minority in the Capitol, and chances are low that gun-rights proponents will get a carve-out.

“These people have a different culture than what’s in Sacramento,” she said. “They should be able to govern themselves with certain things and make decisions that are best for their community.”

Jim Stanley, a spokesman for Assembly Republicans, agreed that rural residents feel left out of California politics.

“There’s a sense that the bigger cities kind of run things around Sacramento,” he said. “When people feel like they’re not being heard, it’s natural to respond. It’s all about feeling you have a voice in the room.”

And when it comes to hearing voices around Needles, people feel that adjacent states such as Nevada and Arizona better speak their language than Sacramento.

“We’re like an island here in Needles, completely separate from California. The closest city in the state is Blythe, and that’s 100 miles to the south, along a two-lane road,” said Terral. “We feel more of a kinship to Arizona and Nevada. I can walk to Arizona in two minutes. I can see it from my front yard. I can’t see Sacramento.”

California’s state capital lies as far away from politically conservative Needles as Atlanta is from Washington. Nobody can remember the last time a Democrat was elected to any office here in a town that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by a decided margin.

Two years ago, when many California coastal areas passed their local sanctuary policies on immigration enforcement, Needles took its own stand, declaring that the town was decidedly not a haven for anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally. At Needles City Hall, pictures show City Council members posed in front of American flags, a nod to the pervading nationalism here. Needles residents like their wide-open spaces. And they like their guns.

At the Wagon Wheel restaurant, which sits across the road from the Giggling Cactus diner along I-40, men in cowboy hats dig into hearty cholesterol-laden breakfasts without asking about gluten content.

Waitress Robbie Tieman, a 15-year food-serving veteran here, is a gun owner who lives in Arizona. She probably wouldn’t bring her gun to work. Still, she doesn’t like anyone saying she can’t do it.

“People should be able to carry their guns wherever they go,” she said, refilling a visitor’s cup with coffee. “I know bad people carry guns, but I think they’d be less likely to rob a liquor store if they knew people inside were packing their own firearms.”

At 55, Mayor Williams is a slender man who dresses in a form-fitting suits. He’s a grandfather of 13 who wants Needles to stick around so his grandkids can enjoy it.

Needles remains a rail town through which 80 freight trains pass each day; it has also become a base for the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry. But Williams has seen his community lose half its population since the 1960s.

To survive, he said, the place needs all the help it can get, and restrictive gun laws are driving visitors—and their money—away from town. “They’re threatening the lifestyle we’ve built here,” he said.

For his part, Terral just wants California to take its mitts off his gun, and his rights.

“They don’t let you live your life,” he said. “Legislators want their finger in every aspect. Given the chance, they’d probably have our paychecks sent directly to Sacramento, and they’d give us back what they thought we needed.”

That pet peeve hit home recently, he said, when he attended a conference in a small beach community south of Los Angeles.

“I walked down the sidewalk and I saw all the signs. You’d couldn’t smoke, ride a skateboard or roller skate. It was all no, no, no,” he said.

He was glad to get back to Needles, “where I wasn’t watching where I walked in case I broke some law I didn’t know anything about.”

CALMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

California already has 109 laws on the books that regulate the use of firearms—more gun-control rules than any other state.

More, it seems, are on the way.

On Feb. 4, a Democratic contingent of lawmakers announced plans to send a raft of new gun-related bills to the governor before the end of the legislative session. The 16 lawmakers were joined by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun-control advocate and mass-shooting survivor, along with representatives of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

With Democrats now wielding unprecedented political power in Sacramento, including the recent election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who embraces his role as public enemy of the National Rifle Association, the time seems ripe for a new legislative push.

“We have expanded Democratic majorities in both houses; we have a bright and ambitious new governor with a real track record on this issue,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of Encino, who helped form the “gun violence working group” with Berkeley Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. “We have a special opportunity here in California to draft some forward-thinking, meaningful, evidence-based legislation that is going to help end mass shootings and end gun violence.”

Among the legislative proposals introduced:

AB 165, by Gabriel, which would call for standards to be developed to teach police officers how to temporarily remove guns from people a court has decided pose a threat to themselves or others. That may include those charged with domestic violence. After a man shot and killed 12 people at a Thousand Oaks bar last November, it was reported that police had paid a home visit to the shooter prior to the incident, but decided not to seek a “gun violence restraining order” against him.

• A proposal by Wicks (yet to be formally introduced) to boost funding to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program, which funds local programs that strive to reduce gun violence.

• A proposal by Assemblyman Mike Gipson from Carson (yet to be formally introduced) that would regulate certain metal components that can be assembled into firearms. A similar bill of his was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

“America’s love affair with firearms has got to end,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson from Santa Barbara. “I am hopeful that we are going to take our country back.”

But as lawmakers ramp up gun control legislation in California, the judicial winds seem to be blowing against them.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York City law that strictly limits where gun owners can carry their firearms. That decision was widely taken as a sign that the current court may take a more expansive view of the Second Amendment—perhaps at the expense of California’s strict gun control laws.

“We, as a state, have the right to protect our citizens, to protect our kids and to protect our schools and so we think we can accomplish both of those things while being consistent with the second amendment and also doing big things to prevent gun violence,” said Gabriel.

To learn more about gun policy in California, explore CALmatters' in-depth explainer.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

These days, it’s impossible for an American citizen fortunate enough to have been born with a functioning mind not to worry about guns and the men who love them—and the innocent victims some of those gun-lovers kill. 

National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre, who tends to blame school shootings on rap music, has accused the government, aided by the press, of attempting to discredit firearms enthusiasts by issuing propaganda worthy of the Nazis. Then there’s Alex Jones, the conspiracy-theorist host of Infowars, ranting to his radio followers that the Sandy Hook school shooting of 26 people, 20 of them first-graders, was “a giant hoax. … The whole thing was fake.” Jones is now being sued by some of the bereaved families for claiming that the massacre was staged, using actors hired by the government—all part of a plot to set the stage for seizing our guns.

LaPierre strikes me a brazen profiteer—he made more than $5 million in compensation from the NRA in 2015—and Jones is either deranged or evil, or both. Because of such men, too many of us who long for rational gun laws have given up hope, concluding that the legions of gullible citizens influenced by people like LaPierre and Jones carry so much political weight that meaningful legislation has become impossible.

I thought that, too, until a man I’d done a professional favor for invited me to hunt turkeys on a ranch in west Texas.

There were six of us in the hunting party, and on our first morning, we were up well before first light. We ate steak-and-egg breakfasts, and set out, two to a pickup truck, to hunt. My partner was Robert, the man who had invited me. As we bounced along a dirt road bordering the Concho River, he told me the particulars of his brand new full-choke, 12-gauge Remington and the super-magnum shells it fired. Then he asked about my gun, and complimented my sense of family loyalty for choosing to use my grandfather’s 12-gauge Ithaca side-by-side.

“Isn’t this it?” Robert said. 

“What?” I asked.

“Turkey hunting! Guns! The most damn fun it’s possible for a human being to have!”

That morning, we did have fun. I bagged a gobbler. Robert called it in, and at a range of 30 yards, the kill was clean. Two or three miles away and another hour later, Robert called in a pair of gobblers and killed the larger one, a bird well more than 20 pounds and sporting a 10-inch beard.

We were the first pickup back to the ranch house. The second vehicle arrived a half-hour later; one of the hunters had killed a gobbler, while the other had missed a difficult shot. The third truck soon came in; nobody in it had seen or heard a turkey.

In mid-morning, after the three bagged birds had been dressed and plucked, two six-packs of beer came out of the ranch house, along with six .22 rifles. For three hours, behind a large barn, we shot at paper targets fastened to bales of straw.

After lunch, we drove in two trucks to the river, with five revolvers and plenty of ammunition. We parked on a streamside meadow where the Concho ran deep and slow, and the afternoon routine was simple: One man at a time was stationed upstream to throw sticks of driftwood into the water while the rest sat in the shade of cottonwoods, blazing away at the sticks as they floated by, cheering hits and scoffing at misses. From a distance, it must have sounded like a war zone.

I spent three days and nights at the ranch and talked at length with my companions about ethical hunting, politics, spectator sports, law, medicine and, of course, guns. We spent many hours shooting at paper targets, drift wood and empty cans, using up at least as much ammunition as all the Clint Eastwood movies ever made. Yet none of these gun-lovers had a single positive word to say about either the NRA or self-serving demagogues like LaPierre and Jones. They were intelligent, articulate and not afraid of stating their views—and there have to be tens of thousands of people like them in the West.

A week later, a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, ended with eight students and two teachers dead. Unlike the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, public outrage seemed almost muted. Then on May 25, it happened again, this time in Indiana: A middle-school student shot two people, including the teacher who bravely tackled him before he could shoot more.

Please, fellow hunters: Summon the courage to speak up. Make yourselves known. If enough of you do, common sense might just stand a chance.

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Oregon.

Published in Community Voices

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

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