Seventh Circuit Strikes Down Zoning Regulations and Age Restriction Governing Shooting Ranges

by Holland & Knight LLP
Contact

Holland & Knight LLP

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • In Rhonda Ezell, et al. v. City of Chicago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that zoning regulations limiting shooting ranges to only a small area of a municipality may violate the Second Amendment.
  • The court also determined that prohibiting all minors from entering a shooting range violates the Second Amendment.
  • Municipalities bear the burden of justifying regulations affecting Second Amendment rights with actual evidence that the regulations are justified.

On Jan. 18, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit struck down Chicago's zoning regulations limiting shooting ranges to only a small portion of the city, as well as the city's ban on minors entering shooting ranges, as unconstitutional violations of the Second Amendment.

Background

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago's ordinance banning handgun possession by almost all private citizens, holding that the Second Amendment 1) protects the right to possess firearms, including handguns, in the home for self-defense and 2) applies to the states and local governments. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010). In response to McDonald, the City of Chicago repealed its ban on handgun possession and adopted the Responsible Gun Owners Ordinance, which required gun owners to engage in one hour of firearms range training as a prerequisite to lawful gun ownership in the city. Yet, at the same time, the city prohibited commercial shooting ranges everywhere in the city.

In 2011, the Seventh Circuit struck down the city's complete prohibition on commercial shooting ranges, holding "the right to possess firearms for protection implies a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in their use." Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F. 3d 684, 704 (7th Cir. 2011) (Ezell I).

The city responded to Ezell I by adopting a complex set of regulations governing shooting ranges, some of which were struck down in Ezell v. City of Chicago, 70 F. Supp. 3d 871 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (Ezell II). Three of the city's regulations that remained at issue after Ezell II included:

  • a zoning regulation permitting shooting ranges only in the city's manufacturing districts, and only with a special use permit
  • a zoning regulation barring shooting ranges from being within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of residential districts, schools, places of worship, liquor retailers, libraries, hospitals and multiple other uses
  • a regulation prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from entering a shooting range

In Ezell v. City of Chicago, 2017 WL 203542 (7th Cir. 2017) (Ezell III), the Seventh Circuit held that these three regulations also violate the Second Amendment because the city failed to present sufficient evidence justifying the regulations' infringement on the Second Amendment.

Ruling and Reasoning

The Seventh Circuit began its analysis by reaffirming its holding in Ezell I – that the right to acquire and maintain proficiency in firearm use at a shooting range is a core right protected by the Second Amendment.

The court then examined the strength of the city's justifications for each restriction on the exercise of Second Amendment rights, explaining that because the regulations affected a core right afforded by the Second Amendment, the burden was on the city to establish that there was a close fit between the regulations and the actual public benefits they serve. It noted that such justifications must be supported with actual evidence and not mere assertions.

The Zoning Regulations

As outlined above, two zoning regulations were at issue: 1) the regulation permitting shooting ranges only in the city's manufacturing districts with a special use permit and 2) the regulation barring gun ranges from being within 100 feet of another range and within 500 feet of residential districts, schools, places of worship, liquor retailers and multiple other uses.

The court rejected the city's argument that these regulations should be scrutinized separately, instead explaining that the zoning regulations should be considered together because they "work in tandem to limit where shooting ranges may locate." As such, the court looked at the "combined effect" of the zoning regulations, which left only 2.2 percent of the city's total acreage available for siting a shooting range. The court found that the regulations, as a package, "severely restrict the right of Chicagoans to train in firearm use at a range."

The city argued that both zoning restrictions were justified because they would decrease the risk of gun theft, airborne lead contamination and risk of fire. However, the court rejected these justifications for two reasons.

First, the court faulted the city for not presenting any evidentiary support demonstrating that the regulations would reduce the risks cited by the city. For example, the court rejected the city's argument that shooting ranges create a fire risk, explaining, "[t]he City presented no evidence to suggest that a properly constructed and responsibly operated commercial shooting range presents a greater risk of spontaneous combustion than other commercial uses." Second, the court found that the city's justifications were belied by the fact that the zoning regulations did not apply to noncommercial shooting ranges operated by law enforcement and private security firms, which operated safely and without issue in the areas from which the city had banned commercial shooting ranges.

Importantly, though, the court made clear that not all zoning regulations limiting the location of shooting ranges are unconstitutional. The court explained that "[a] different combination of zoning rules – say, a more permissive zoning classification and a less restrictive buffer-zone rule – may well be justified, if carefully drafted to serve actual public interests while at the same time making commercial firing ranges practicable in the City."

The Age Regulation

The court also struck down the city's prohibition on minors entering shooting ranges using the same two-step analysis.

The court first addressed whether the Second Amendment provided minors' rights. The city argued that minors do not have Second Amendment rights. In support of its claim, the city cited 19th century authority and current state laws prohibiting firearm sales to minors and the possession of firearms by minors. The court found that these laws had little relevance because at issue was not possession of firearms by minors or sales of firearms to minors, but rather the banning of minors from entering gun ranges. The court found there was no historical evidence that firearm training for minors, especially older adolescents and teens, is categorically unprotected by the Second Amendment.

The court then determined that the city failed to demonstrate that the scope of the age restriction closely fit the justifications for the restriction. The court faulted the city for relying only on generalized assertions about the developmental immaturity of children, the risk of lead poising by inhalation or ingestion and the dangers of unsupervised children left with firearms. In addition, the court found that city failed to present evidence that the age restriction was necessary to address the public interests cited by the city. The court also found that the public concerns cited by the city could be addressed with a more closely tailored age restriction that does not completely extinguish the right of older adolescents and teens to learn how to shoot in an appropriately supervised setting at a firing range.

Practical Implications

In light of the Seventh Circuit's opinion, municipalities should closely evaluate any zoning and regulatory restrictions that affect shooting ranges to ensure that their restrictions are closely tailored to withstand a constitutional challenge. In addition, municipalities should also ensure that there is actual evidence to support the need and fit for such regulations.

A copy of Ezell v. City of Chicago is available online.

Written by:

Holland & Knight LLP
Contact
more
less

Holland & Knight LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.