Seventh Circuit: Chicago's 'elaborate scheme' to effectively ban shooting ranges unconstitutional

By Scott Holland | Jan 20, 2017

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled a Chicago ordinance that regulates firearm shooting ranges and the age of minors who can visit them is unconstitutional. 

On Jan. 18, Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, a potential candidate mentioned by many to fill the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, authored the Seventh Circuit’s opinion, upending what she called the city’s “elaborate scheme” to “severely limit” the Second Amendment rights of Chicago gun owners. 

Judges Michael S. Kanne and Ilana Diamond Rovner heard arguments on the case on Nov. 4, 2015. Rovner partially dissented from the decision. 

At issue was the ruling of U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall in a dispute over the city’s moves to enact new rules on firearm ownership and use in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision striking down as unconstitutional a city ban on handgun ownership. 

In that ordinance, the city moved to require permits for handgun possession, and to require firearm owners to undergo an hour of range training. However, the ordinance banned gun ranges in city limits. After the Seventh Circuit found the range ban unconstitutional, “The city responded by replacing the range ban with an elaborate scheme of regulations governing shooting ranges,” Sykes wrote in the appeals court’s Jan. 18 opinion. 

The Seventh Circuit judges said three issues remained in dispute: a zoning restriction limiting shooting ranges to special uses in manufacturing districts; a second prohibiting ranges within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of a residential district, school, place of worship and other properties; and a ban on anyone younger than 18 from entering a shooting range. Kendall permanently enjoined the manufacturing district restriction, but upheld the other two rules. 

The Seventh Circuit judges, however, opted to toss all the city rules at issue, saying the effect of the ordinance “severely limits Chicagoans’ Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range.” 

Judges noted the zoning regulations left only 2.2 percent of the city’s total land theoretically available for legally operating a gun range, “and the commercial viability of any of these parcels is questionable — so much so that no shooting range yet exists.” 

The judges also said the city failed to support its claim that no one younger than 18 is entitled to a Second Amendment right to “learn and practice firearm use in the controlled setting of a shooting range. … To the contrary, its own witness on this subject agreed that the age restriction is overbroad because teenagers can safely be taught to shoot and youth firearm instruction is both prudent and can be conducted in a safe manner.” 

The judges remanded the case back to federal district court so Kendall’s injunction could be modified. 

Rovner filed a partial dissent, saying she does not believe the two zoning regulations must succeed or fail together: “These are two separate regulations with two separate government rationales and two separate effects on the public interest of Chicago citizens.” 

She agreed with Kanne and Sykes in determining the city could not justify its plan to limit to manufacturing areas, but said the distancing requirement “imposes a significantly lighter burden on the placement of firing ranges” and therefore requires less scrutiny than the more burdensome zoning requirement. 

While Rovner agreed with the majority on striking the ban on minors in gun ranges based on the arguments the city advanced, she did note that rights of minors can be limited under the Second Amendment as they are under the First Amendment — “and First Amendment rights are particularly limited when the interest balanced on the other side is the health and safety of minors.” She predicted “stringent regulations for minors in firing ranges will withstand much scrutiny when supported by appropriate evidence.”

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