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
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
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.”