Gun ranges or mosques; weaponized zoning laws are unconstitutional

David Duprey

Using zoning laws and local regulations to push out gun ranges and stores is an old tactic of the Gun Grab Lobby. There are barely two gun stores in New York, a city of 8.8 million; its oldest gun store closed in 2020. The West Coast isn’t better; San Francisco lost its last gun shop in 2015. 

Last year, in a big ruling in Drummond v Robinson Township, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, using heightened scrutiny, ruled in favor of the operator of a gun club that was put out of business by a local government using weaponized zoning. Unfortunately, my hope that it would teach a lesson to meddlesome local government officials has been short-lived.

This story comes from Utica, New York:

Shooting range legislation to be proposed in Utica

UTICA, N.Y. — Utica Common Councilperson Celeste Friend intends to propose a nuisance ordinance that would regulate indoor shooting ranges within the City of Utica. Outdoor ranges are already prohibited in the City, and this legislation would require indoor ranges to be licensed.

In addition The Planning Board would need a 3/4 vote to approve a special building permit.

The City would charge a $500 a year licensing fee, and the range would need $1,000,000 in liability insurance for bodily injury, and property damage.

No new shooting range shall be located closer than 1,000 feet from any entrance to any school, church, hospital, youth recreational facility, or in any location which, in the opinion of the Chief of Police, will result in the annoyance of any nearby resident.

Listed in the proposed legislation are a number of safety protocols. A new range would be required to have a professionally designed and commercially fabricated bullet trap and/or backstop installed in all shooting areas.

Ms. Friend is using myriad regulations to stop an activity that she finds unpalatable. It’s not an uncommon tactic among both elected and unelected government officials.

In the past, after 9/11, zoning and planning laws were used to slow down or stop the construction of mosques in violation of the First Amendment. Per one count, over 30 mosques were prevented from being built. The courts addressed these cases across the country and ruled in favor of the First Amendment-protected free exercise of religion. 

It is good to see courts starting to afford the same level of respect to Second Amendment-protected activities at gun ranges that have been given to religious institutions in First Amendment cases. However, courts are always the backstop; unconstitutional laws must be stopped at the legislature.

WKTV spoke with Celeste Friend by phone. She says she’s not opposed to shooting ranges. She feels any law abiding gun owner should know how to safely shoot their firearm, however she feels shooting ranges need to be located in the right places and not allowed in residential neighborhoods, or near commercial property.

The hypocrisy of the Gun Grab Lobby is seen in their new push for onerous training mandates. At every opportunity, organizations like Giffords have come out and praised training requirements like clockwork and criticized any legislation that doesn’t include their training demands. Yet, when it came to the operation of a gun range that would help citizens get training, they stepped in to support shutting down the range and make it harder for citizens to get training. It’s part of a long-running pattern of duplicity and deceit, and Ms. Friend is a part of that. “Yes, of course, we fully support the Second Amendment but we need you to get training before you exercise your right, and no we won’t allow gun ranges where you can get trained.”

If you are or know someone in Utica, NY, call or have them call the Common Council and remind them that the Second Amendment is just as important as the First, and that throwing up hurdles to gun ranges because of your personal distaste is just as shameful as throwing up hurdles to mosques.