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Rural California fights back


Poor Jeff Williams. He has to drive 140 miles to buy ammunition for his Glock 45 9mm pistol—the same type of gun Omar Mateen used when he slaughtered 49 people in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

Williams lives in Needles, California, a small city on the California-Arizona border, in the Mohave Desert. Due to California’s strict gun control laws, gun owners are prohibited from buying ammo in other states and then transporting it into California. So Williams, who is Needles’ mayor, can’t just buy bullets from the nearby towns, a few miles away, that are across the state line in Arizona. “I have to drive 140 miles to Barstow,” he complains.

Needles is one of those towns where firearms play an inordinate role in its citizens’ lives. There are many gun stores and shooting ranges. It’s the kind of place where dads take their kids out for target practice with semi-automatic rifles.

Needles’ congressman is the arch-Republican Paul Cook, who has a perfect 0% rating from Planned Parenthood and an equally perfect 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Cook is a global warming denier, and he opposes holding Russia accountable for meddling in our elections.

I mention this just to provide some background to the political and cultural environment in Needles. In the wake of California’s strict gun control laws, Needles just declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary City,” an obvious play-on-words with the sanctuary city policies that apply to immigrants in cities like San Francisco and Oakland. Needless to say, immigrant sanctuary city policies are not popular in conservative Needles. In fact, the man who introduced Needles’ gun-sanctuary city policy, City Councilman Tim Terral, admits he “chose the word ‘sanctuary’ to take a stab at all the liberals. It was a little jab in the eyes.”

Needles is, needless to say, Trump country. It is more than 50% white, although that percentage has been shrinking in recent years as the Hispanic population, currently around 35%, increases. So conservative is Needles that when Cook ran for re-election in 2018, he faced, not a Democratic candidate, but another Republican. The Dems didn’t even bother to compete. Cook, who won, was endorsed by Trump and by the N.R.A.

I have never owned a gun. I’ve fired a few, for sports activities. I support the Second Amendment, but what ammophiles, like Cook, Terrel and other gun nuts never talk about is that section of the amendment that refers to “a well-regulated Militia.” It is one of the coarsest, most blatant Republican lies in history to conveniently forget that phrase and argue instead that the Second Amendment gives every citizen the right to own weaponry no matter how lethal it is: automatic weapons, tanks, perhaps someday even tactical nuclear weapons.

If that sounds absurd, then ask yourself what is the limit of weapon ownership in America? If you can legally possess an AK-47 then it’s only a slippery slope towards an even more deadly arsenal. As crazy as owning a tank sounds, the Founding Fathers would have thought it insane to allow a U.S. civilian to own a machine gun that can mow down dozens of people in minutes.

What is this so-called “gun culture” all about, anyway? Here’s what we know about it. They are practically 100% Republicans, and not moderate Republicans, but the most hardcore of the right. They are overwhelmingly white, and male. They are rural. They mostly do not have much money, and their educational level is low. They live in places that have very few Black people. They voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers; they’re the ones turning up at his rallies in their little MAGA hats shrieking “Send Her Back” or, in the last election, “Lock Her Up.” They’re militantly homophobic, they hate government (except when they’re collecting their Social Security, unemployment or Medicare benefits), they don’t much care for foreigners, and they use Jesus as an excuse for their bigotry. They use the language of self-determination to justify their peculiar addictions. “[Needles residents] should be able to govern themselves with certain things and make decisions that are best for their communities,” said a prominent Needles Republican activist.

Well, for sure. Who’s against self-governance? But by the same token the people of California should be able to govern themselves, and they have determined that there are too many guns, in the hands of too many unstable people. Part of the solution is to ban the importation of ammunition. If that means that Mayor Williams has to drive 140 miles each way to buy bullets for his Glock, then screw him. That’s his problem, not ours—and we Californians are going to make gun and ammunition ownership even more difficult in the coming years. If Mayor Williams doesn’t like it, let him move to Arizona.

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