Needles has declared itself a Second Amendment sanctuary city, a first-in-California designation that leaders in this remote desert town see as a first step toward changing the state’s toughest-in-the-nation gun control laws.
Needles in easternmost San Bernardino County hugs the Arizona state line and is just miles from the Nevada border. The city of nearly 5,000 is closer to Las Vegas (111 miles) than the 200-mile trek west to the county seat in San Bernardino and closer in worldview to their next-door neighbors in the Silver and Copper states.
Gun rights in a state with the most stringent gun control laws in the nation are very important to the people of the Mojave Desert – a message that Needles Mayor Williams wants to send to lawmakers in Sacramento.
“The City Council wanted our community to know that we support their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms,” Williams said in a statement June 15 after city council members unanimously approved the declaration. “While we recognize that all lawful gun owners are responsible for ensuring they are compliant with state and federal gun laws, we also recognize that the State of California cannot adopt laws that impair the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”
Questions about the resolution’s legal standing loom but in the days since Needles’ city council unanimously approved the declaration June 15, Needles leaders have set a brisk timeline. Needles Mayor Jeff Williams and city officials are planning to meet with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s officials in San Bernardino July 3. Needles council members will bring the sanctuary city declaration to a city council vote July 9.
“It’s really about verifying our constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Rick Daniels, Needles’ city manager, said Tuesday.
Needles officials also plan to meet with state lawmakers to discuss potential exemptions to standing California gun law within a 65-mile radius of Needles; proposals for a reciprocity agreement between California, Arizona and Nevada to recognize those states’ Carrying a Concealed Weapon licenses or CCWs; and a contentious ammunition statute that goes into effect July 1.
“We’re the easternmost city in California. We’re 140 miles from Barstow; we’re 100 miles from Blythe. We’re a couple hundred yards from Arizona and 10 miles from Nevada,” Daniels said. “The law is concealed carry by right in Nevada. In Arizona, you have to fill out an application (for permission to carry a concealed weapon). Both of these states recognize California’s CCWs, but California doesn’t recognize theirs.”
“It was a good time to ask for a carve-out. We’re asking San Bernardino County to use discretion – to let them go back (to Arizona or Nevada) instead of making them a felon,” Williams said.
Williams says Needles “doesn’t want the sheriff picking and choosing what laws they enforce,” but said city leaders will ask that San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies exercise discretion when encountering border state residents with concealed carry privileges.
As Needles’ leaders push for changes to state gun law, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Department of Justice delivered mixed messages on whether residents would need Real IDs or their equal paperwork to buy ammunition starting July 1.
The governor said residents will need Real ID. State justice department officials quickly contradicted that saying there would be no Real ID requirement to purchase ammo and could use standard California drivers licenses.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, expressed confusion even as he sought clarification from the state Attorney General’s office in blasting the mix-up Tuesday.
“This seems like another monumental conflict and screw-up of policy making,” Patterson said. “There has to be a clear checklist of documents to bring. We’re going have an awful lot of people who I think are going to be denied guns not because they are suspect but because the system is so confusing.” Newsom later said Californians have had ample notice of the rule changes coming this year.
Detractors may dismiss Needles’ “sanctuary city” declaration as a rallying cry, but city manager Daniels says pragmatism and potential economic impacts on the desert outpost are driving the declaration as much as politics. Daniels said Arizona and Nevada residents who travel for recreation or business stay clear of Needles because of California’s gun laws.
“They avoid Needles,” Daniels said.
Arizonans or Nevadans used to carrying or traveling with firearms sometimes forget they are armed when they cross into California, Daniels said. Because California does not recognize concealed carry permits from those states, Needles’ Arizona and Nevada neighbors “avoid coming to Needles to shop and do business.”
Daniels said the 2018 gun control law that made it illegal to import into California ammunition purchased in another state also is unfair to Needles and other California communities a short distance from gun-friendly Arizona and Nevada.
“It’s 140 miles to Barstow, 100 miles to Blythe to buy a bullet when there are six gun shops (across state lines) in Nevada and Arizona. We’re looking for a pragmatic approach. We’re just removing the impediments of these statutes. We’re trying to respectfully request the legislature recognize the unique situation” of border cities,” Daniels said.
“It’s not fair,” Williams said later. “A lot of communities probably don’t have this issue but we have this issue because we’re on the border.” Other towns are also showing interest in the sanctuary city idea, he said, including the city of Tehachapi. Williams said the Kern County mountain town wants to discuss a similar declaration July 1.
Williams says Needles’ city attorney is still working on language to present to lawmakers. He said the declaration has caught the attention of the National Rifle Association and “a couple of law firms that want to help us move forward.”
“Then we’ll send it lawmakers to try to get something done about it,” Williams said.