Shooting ranges have a long tradition of service to a wide variety of citizen groups. However, without adequate range protection laws, safe shooting ranges – which offer valuable public services and recreational opportunities in addition to supporting the American System of Conservation Funding – will be vulnerable to arbitrary sanctions and creative lawsuits. In recent years, this has resulted in hundreds of lawsuits and complaints filed by newcomers against range owners, as well as the passage of local ordinances aimed at closing ranges.
Although firearms shooting ranges have a long tradition of service to a wide array of recreational citizen groups, they are coming under fire as population growth and suburban sprawl expand closer to existing ranges. In recent years, this has resulted in hundreds of lawsuits and complaints filed by newcomers against range owners, as well as the passage of local ordinances aimed at closing ranges. These ordinances take many forms but can include: prohibitions against excessive noise, controlling times of operation, and limiting facility expansion. Reasonable operation time and expansion is necessary to accommodate a growing interest in the shooting sports and rising shooting club membership numbers. Without adequate range protection laws, safe shooting ranges that offer valuable public services (such as concealed carry and firearms safety training) and recreational opportunities will be vulnerable to arbitrary sanctions, creative lawsuits, and closure.
In recent years, anti-gun groups have seized onto news stories that detail instances of human health issues and increased environmental lead exposure resulting from poor management at individual gun ranges, primarily as a means of shutting down these ranges. Such advocates have called for lead exposure standards that far exceed the already strict federal safety standards by which range operators must abide, to the point of where it would be prohibitively expensive to operate these ranges. While individual shooting ranges may be managed below existing, legally-required standards (as can happen in every field), the overwhelming majority of shooting ranges adhere very strictly to state and federal workplace health and safety requirements relating to lead exposure, ensuring that employees, customers, and the surrounding environment are adequately protected.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is charged with protecting employee health and safety in the workplace, has a comprehensive lead regulation that defines an employer’s legal responsibilities to limit employee exposure to airborne lead, provide protective equipment and hygiene facilities, maintain a clean workplace, and provide employees with safety training and medical care. Failure to comply with the requirements of the Lead Standard can result in fines to range operators. Additionally, 26 states and two territories currently administer their own occupational safety and health program under a provision of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Given the extensive regulations in place that govern lead exposure levels, monitoring, ventilation, etc., there is simply no reason to categorize shooting ranges as unsafe environments. Individual bad actor ranges should be, and are, held accountable according to these legal guidelines and made to come into compliance with these standards.
Points of Interest
States have taken a number of unique approaches to solidify their respective range protection laws, including:
- Protecting ranges against lawsuits being brought by both private and public entities.
- Minimizing the ability for ranges to be zoned out, to have use permits rescinded, or to be put into financial distress due to licensing fees and/or other requirements.
- Grandfathering ranges into municipalities that ban shooting inside city limits.
- Disallowing a locality from regulating firearm discharge in any way.
- Protecting ranges against “safety lawsuits” unless there is actual damage to property or people.
- In 2016 Maine enacted ME H 1023, a bill aimed to protect ranges from unwarranted lawsuits and initiate seniority rights for established ranges.
- In 2015, West Virginia and Mississippi both passed bills (MS H 1300 & WV H 4174, respectively) giving guidelines to ranges regarding their fixed line of fire. In addition, these bills provided a baseline for relations with surrounding properties.
- In 2020, Iowa passed House File 2502 (HF2502) which included provisions that protect shooting ranges from being subject to county or city regulations that would require conditions more stringent than those required by the state.
- In 2021, Governor Little of Idaho signed Senate Bill 1055 into law which clarifies and enhances the protections on sport shooting ranges under Idaho law. By adding new definitions, SB 1055 allows ranges to more easily expand and remain open against frivolous lawsuits attempting to shut them down.
- Shooting range operators are required by federal law to adhere to strict standards relating to lead exposure that are enforced by OSHA. 26 states and two territories currently administer their own occupational safety and health programs.
The following states have proposed range protection legislation using the language below:
- Indiana Enrolled Act No. 1563: “A person who owns, operates, or uses a shooting range is not liable in any civil or criminal matter relating to noise or noise pollution that results from the operation or use of the shooting range if the construction and operation of the shooting range.”
- South Dakota § 21-10-28: “The use or operation of a sport shooting range may not be enjoined as a nuisance if the range is in compliance with those statutes, regulations, and ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at the time when the initial operation of the range commenced. The use or operation of a sport shooting range may not be enjoined as a nuisance due to any subsequent change in any local regulation or ordinance pertaining to the normal operation and use of sport shooting ranges. However, if the usage or design of the range results in a significant threat to human life or private habitations, a nuisance is constituted and an injunction may prescribe appropriate relief.”
- Utah SB 107: “A state agency or political subdivision shall ensure that any of its rules or ordinances that define or prohibit a public nuisance exclude from the definition or prohibition any shooting range or public shooting range that was established, constructed, or operated prior to the implementation of the rule or ordinance regarding public nuisance unless that activity or operation substantially and adversely affects public health or safety.”
- West Virginia SB 575: “No local ordinance regulating any noise may subject a shooting range to noise control standards more stringent than those standards in effect when the ordinance was first enacted. The operation or use of sport shooting range may not be enjoined based on noise, nor may any person be subject to action for nuisance or criminal prosecution in any matter relating to noise resulting from the operation of the range, if the range is in compliance with all ordinances relating to noise in effect at the time construction or operation of the range was approved, or at the time any application was submitted for the construction or operation of the range.”
- Iowa HF 2502: A city or county zoning board “shall apply and enforce zoning regulations and restrictions established for each zoning district adopted pursuant to this chapter but shall not otherwise require a person seeking approval to comply with any conditions relating to the establishment, use, or maintenance of the shooting range that are more stringent than those imposed by state law.
As shooting ranges in urban jurisdictions have increasingly been disenfranchised by burdensome regulations, the need has arisen for elected officials to advance and support legislation which protects shooting ranges from constricting regulations and frivolous lawsuits. Legislators are urged to consider legislation and/or regulations that promote range protections while simultaneously supporting public safety and good neighbor relations.