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OLR Research Report


May 28, 2010

 

2010-R-0218

SHOOTING RANGE SAFETY STANDARDS IN OTHER STATES

By: Duke Chen, Legislative Analyst II

You asked how other states impose safety standards on shooting ranges.

SUMMARY

Only a few states address shooting range safety by statute, but ranges still have to comply with state firearm laws. Consequently, shooting ranges are more likely to be regulated by municipalities through zoning regulations or general municipal ordinances. For example, a zoning regulation may allow shooting ranges only in specified areas under a special permit, which is a land use tool for regulating a project that may create special problems for bordering properties unless given special attention.

At least six states address shooting range safety issues, but not by setting and enforcing safety standards. Instead, their laws encourage ranges to comply with the National Rifle Association's (NRA) range safety standards by protecting those that do from civil liability, criminal prosecution, and injunctions related to a range of actions including violating safety standards, operating an illegal nonconforming use, and exceeding acceptable noise standards. The states that have taken this approach are Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio.

The NRA's “safety performance standards” are specified in its Range Source Book (i.e., “source book”). However, the source book explicitly states that it is merely a guide and should not be used to establish design standards or criteria for shooting ranges, which vary based on many factors, including location and type of shooting. Consequently, the source book does not provide criteria, but makes suggestions, including things to consider when preparing safety plans and formulating rules for handling guns and using the range. The source book also makes suggestions for planning and designing ranges.

OTHER STATE LAWS

Florida

Florida law exempts existing sport shooting ranges from subsequent changes to existing ordinances governing its operation, as long as they continue to conform to current NRA gun safety and shooting standards. To qualify for this protection, a shooting range must have complied with ordinances that existed when the range began operations (Fla. Stat. 823.16 (6)).

Kansas

Kansas law protects sport shooting ranges that conform to the “general accepted operation practices” from civil liability or criminal prosecution in noise or noise pollution matters resulting from the operation of the range, as long as the range continues to comply with the noise control laws, ordinances, or resolutions that were applicable when the range was constructed and began operating (Kan. Stat. Ann. 58- 3221).

“General accepted operation practices” is defined to mean the rules and regulations promulgated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, which incorporate by reference parts of the NRA Range Source Book, including the section dealing with safety planning (Kan. Admin. Regs. 115-22-1).

Michigan

Michigan law similarly protects sports shooting ranges that conform to the “generally accepted operation practices” from civil liability, criminal prosecution, and nuisance actions. It does so by prohibiting a court from enjoining or restraining the use of a range in noise or noise pollution matters resulting from its operation, as long as the range is in compliance with noise control laws, ordinances, or resolutions that were applicable at the time of construction and initial operation of the range (Mich. Comp. Laws 691.1542).

“Generally accepted operation practice” is defined to mean the practices adopted by the Commission on Natural Resources that are established by a nationally recognized nonprofit membership organization that provides voluntary firearm safety programs (Mich. Comp. Laws 691.1541).

Minnesota

Minnesota law permits shooting ranges that comply with the “shooting range performance standards” to:

1. operate the range and conduct activities involving the discharge of firearms,

2. expand or increase its membership or opportunities for public participation related to shooting,

3. make repairs or improvements desirable to meet or exceed shooting range performance standards,

4. increase events and activities related to shooting activity,

5. conduct shooting activities between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., and

6. acquire additional lands to be used as buffer zones or mitigate noises(Minn. Stat. 87A.03).

Ranges that meet these standards are “nonconforming uses,” a designation that exempts them from having to comply with subsequent changes in state and local laws and regulations. Additionally, if a shooting range complies with the “shooting range performance standard,” it can conduct additional shooting activities within its lawful property boundaries as of the date it became a nonconforming use (Minn. Stat. 87A.03).

Finally, under Minnesota law, a court cannot force a shooting range in compliance with the “shooting range performance standards” to permanently close unless the court deems it a clear and immediate safety hazard (Minn. Stat. 87A.07(1)). Nothing in the law would prevent the court from granting a preliminary injunction against any activity determined to be a probable clear and immediate safety hazard (Minn. Stat. 87A.07(2)).

The NRA Source Book is serving as an interim set of safety standards until permanent performance standards are adopted (Minn. Stat. 87A.02).

Nebraska

Nebraska law allows shooting ranges to continue operating without regard to, any law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or resolution related to zoning, noise of the discharge of firearms enacted by any city, county, village, or other political subdivision of the state if the shooting range complies with the “shooting range performance standards,” which by reference are the safety guidelines delineated in the source book (Neb. Rev. Stat. 1304-1306).

Additionally, any shooting range that complies with the standards and building and safety codes may be:

1. repaired, remodeled, or reinforced as necessary in the interest of public safety;

2. reconstructed, repaired, rebuilt, or resumed for use as a shooting range; or

3. authorized to do anything under generally recognized operation practices, including but limited to expanding or enhancing its membership, facilities, or activities within existing the existing range (Neb. Rev. Stat. 37-1307).

“Shooting range performance standards,” is defined to mean the NRA Range Source Book (Neb. Rev. Stat. 37-1302).

Ohio

Ohio law protects shooting ranges from nuisance suits seeking injunctive relief, civil liability, or criminal prosecution for noise related incidents if the range substantially complies with the regulations governing range noise and safety (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 1533.85).

The law requires the chief of the division of wildlife to adopt rules establishing generally accepted standards for shooting ranges, which cannot be more stringent than those in the source book (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 1533.84).

Ohio's shooting range regulations set noise levels and specify the hours of operation and require a safety plan that substantially complies with the source book's safety guidelines (Ohio Admin. Code 1501:31-29-03).

NRA SOURCE BOOK

Overview

The NRA Range Source Book provides guidelines for planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining shooting range facilities. It reiterates that it is not a substitute, under any circumstances, for a thorough professional evaluation of a shooting range, but only a set of things to consider when building and operating a shooting range.

The Safety Plan

According to the source book, each range should have a clear and concise safety plan. The plan must be signed, published, and reviewed at specific intervals and distributed to all range users to study and use. It should also stipulate how, when, why and by whom the facility can be used. Exceptions to these rules should be carefully defined to avoid confusion. The plan should also include a section that spells out the consequences of safety violations, which can range from issuing a warning to banning violators from the facility. These rules and regulations should be posted in a conspicuous location.

Gun Handling Rules

The source book states gun handling rules should always appear first in the safety plan and be prominently displayed at the shooting range. At a minimum, the plan should include the following safety rules:

1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

3. Always keep the action open and firearm unloaded until ready to use.

4. Know your target and what is beyond.

5. Be sure the gun is safe to operate.

6. Know how to use the gun safely.

7. Use only the correct Ammunition for your gun.

8. Never use alcohol or drugs before shooting.

9. Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.

10. Be aware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.

General Range Rules

A shooting range, regardless of size, location or design, should incorporate, at a minimum, the following general range rules.

1. Know and obey all range commands.

2. Know where others are at all times.

3. Shoot only at authorized targets.

4. Ground level targets are not authorized without a proper backstop.

5. Designate a range officer when none is present or assigned.

6. Unload, open the action, remove the magazine and ground and/or bench all firearms during a cease-fire.

7. Do not handle any firearm or stand at the firing line where firearms are present while others are down range.

8. Always keep the muzzle pointed at the backstop or bullet trap.

Specific Range Rules

The source book recommends that shooting ranges establish rules and regulations that are tailored to its needs. They should include:

1. gun handling rules;

2. general range rules;

3. regulations on the type of firearm, shooting activity, caliber, shot size, or type of target to ensure range safety; and

4. administrative regulations regarding target supplies, target frame materials, security and equipment usage, along with buildings and grounds maintenance as necessary for safe and efficient range operations.

Planning

In planning for safety, the source book recommends evaluating the needs of the user and identifying permitted shooting activities, each of which requires different considerations. After evaluating the needs, it is necessary to design and engineer the range to accommodate those activities. Planning should also address how the range will enforce its rules. The source book refers to two enforcement methods: “passive,” which means shooters can shoot without direct supervision or “active,” which means someone must be on hand to enforce the range's rules.

Design

A shooting range's design depends on the type of shooting to be allowed and the location of the proposed site. The design specifications should consider the safety of the people using the facility, the property surrounding it, and the area's inhabitants. They should also consider all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

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