Shooting Range Case Before Michigan Supreme Court Thursday

On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Addison Township v. Jerry Klein Barnhart, which could have far-reaching implications for Michigan shooting ranges. At issue is whether a shooting range’s business or commercial activities invalidate its protection from local zoning ordinances under Michigan’s Sport Shooting Ranges Act. Michigan United Conservation Clubs filed an Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in this case advocating that shooting ranges are protected under the act regardless of their commercial activities.

The Sport Shooting Ranges Act (SSRA) was originally passed in 1989 to provide shooting ranges protection from noise and nuisance lawsuits as urban sprawl brought more residential homeowners in closer proximity to existing shooting ranges. It was amended in 1994 to further exempt then-existing shooting ranges from local zoning ordinances.

The SSRA specifically protects any “person who owns or operates or uses a shooting range that conforms to generally accepted operation practices…” and specifically defines “person” to include proprietorships, partnerships and corporations, which are business and commercial entities. Further, the act specifically defines “sport shooting range” to mean “an area designed and operated for the use of archery, rifles, shotguns pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder or any similar sport shooting.”

When courts interpret statues like the SSRA, they are supposed to adhere to the definitions and clear terms of the statute. Outside sources like dictionary definitions are supposed to be consulted only if the statutory definition is unclear. Instead, the Court of Appeals fixated on the word “sport,” pulled out a dictionary and decided that since “sport” was defined as “athletic activity,” “diversion or recreation,” any range that also had business activities was unprotected by the SSRA.

Nowhere in the SSRA does it exclude shooting ranges with business or commercial activities from its protections, but somehow that’s what the Court of Appeals decided. The Court of Appeals reasoned that it had to do this to avoid making the single word “sport” meaningless in the statute, but in doing so, it made the entire Sport Shooting Ranges Act meaningless, since almost every range charges at least a user fee, and the majority of Michigan shooting ranges also provide firearm instruction for a fee.

If the Court of Appeals’ decision stands, Michigan’s shooting ranges, including many of those operated by MUCC member clubs, could once again be in jeopardy of having to defend countless noise and nuisance lawsuits and anti-shooting zoning regulations resulting from urban sprawl. We won’t know what the Michigan Supreme Court decides on Thursday, but the arguments will be an important factor in how the justices ultimately rule.

Follow MUCC on Facebook and Twitter for current updates on this case and other important conservation issues. On Thursday, April 11, we’ll provide up-to-the-minute updates on this case, the DNR’s wolf hunting regulation proposals to the Natural Resources Commission and a new bill package before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

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