MICHIGAN SPORTS SHOOTING RANGE ACT STILL BEING DISPUTED EVEN AFTER FAVORABLE RULING BY SUPREME COURT EARLIER THIS YEAR
Photo by Del Belcher
by Nick Bade-Dodge, MUCC Policy Intern
Recent disputes between Michigan shooting ranges and their local prosecutors reveal an on-going tension concerning shooting range rights and protection of those rights under the Sport Shooting Range Act (SSRA). The SSRA was passed in 1989 in response to growing tensions between shooting range owners and nearby residents. It was further amended in 1994 to grandfather in owners of existing ranges allowing them to expand their activities in accordance with the NRA Range Manual. Under the SSRA, shooting range owners are legally immune to various nuisance and zoning lawsuits that apply to state and local regulations for the use of firearms near residencies. Although the law provides these protections, disputes are still arising over clarity of the law and over what constitutes a qualified shooting range.
A resident of Addison Township, Jerry Barnhart, received a misdemeanor citation from the Township for operating a shooting range without a zoning permit in 2005. The range was used for recreation, as well as teaching firearms classes. The case made its way to the Court of Appeals, which ruled that the SSRA protection did not extend to Jerry Barnhart because he operated the range as a business, which does not fall under the definition of “sport” range. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned this ruling in April 2014 and found that the important factors in determining whether a range is eligible for protection under the law is the range’s design and operation, not intention of individual shooters when they use the range.
One would think that the above example would provide plenty of legal reference for future disputes with shooting ranges and neighbors, but this is not true. According to the Associated Press, the Cheboygan Sportsman Club received complaints from a former member who moved near the club. He argued that the club was in violation of a Michigan law that prohibits shooting within 150 yards of a residence. The county prosecutor filed charges against the club, but the court of appeals ruled in favor of the club, stating that the law only applies to hunting and not shooting with respect to the SSRA.
Although these court decisions occurred, there is still much dispute over shooting ranges and the SSRA. The courts have tended to side with the shooting ranges on disputes, but the fact that disputes are still occurring reveals that this issue is not going away anytime soon. A piece of legislation was introduced in 2013 by Representative Shirkey that sought to clarify the SSRA in case the Supreme Court ruling went south. However, as mentioned above the ruling went in our favor so the bill was never advanced. But if these cases keep coming up, legislation may be needed after all to eliminate the need for future court cases regarding the law.
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