Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Va. shooting range suit could have ripple effect

Associate Editor

Fairfax, Va. A case that’s headed to court in the state of
Virginia could someday affect challenges to shooting ranges all the
way to Minnesota.

“I would think if we get a good decision here it could be used
as persuasion in other states,” said Stephen Halbrook, a Fairfax,
Va., attorney who’s defending the shotgun sports business in the
rural Virginia county of Nelson. He said Orion Sporting Group’s
lawsuit “is one of the first in U.S. history to fight a local
government’s infringement on state constitutional hunting
rights.”

Virginia made hunting, fishing, and game harvesting a
constitutional right in that state in 2000, two years after
Minnesota passed a similar constitutional amendment. Several states
have since followed suit, Halbrook said.

According to a synopsis of the case from Halbrook, “Orion
applied for a conditional use permit to re-open an ongoing shotgun
sports business on a new 450-acre rural tract of property where
Orion has a licensed hunting preserve Even though the facility
would have complied with the existing noise ordinance, the county
turned it down.”

Halbrook said the board appeared ready to approve the permit,
until complaints were received from neighbors of the planned
shooting range.

When the county board voted 4-1 to reject the conditional use
permit, Orion sued, claiming the county’s action violated the
rights of the club under Virginia’s 2000 constitutional amendment
guarding the right to hunt, fish, and harvest game.

Attorneys for the county have been mum on the matter, and
Halbrook said he doesn’t expect a settlement prior to the April
trial date.

According to Halbrook’s legal briefs, county counsel will argue
that “corporations have no right to hunt and that sporting clays
isn’t hunting.”

Halbrook likens that to an argument involving freedom of the
press; “the right to a free press couldn’t survive if only lone
individuals could disseminate news and opinion,” he writes.

Further, he states, the constitutional amendment includes
activities peripheral to the act of hunting.

“(Hunting) is more than just turning loose the individual into
the woods to hunt,” he said. Training is required for purposes of
safety and accuracy. He said that noise tests for the facility
complied with regulations.

Nearly a year after the board rejected the conditional use
permit for Orion, a circuit court judge ruled the case could
proceed to trial.

Nelson County has about 15,000 citizens, similar in size to
Minnesota’s Aitkin County, though slightly smaller
geographically.

In Minnesota, local zoning usually determines whether or not a
shooting range is allowed, according to Maj. Jeff Thielen, DNR
Enforcement operations support manager. In the past few years, some
legislators have tried unsuccessfully to provide “range protection”
for businesses that increasingly are threatened by urban
encroachment.

However, “There’s never been a concerted effort statewide,”
Thielen said. “It’s been left as a local issue.”

He said the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources has
provided funding in the past for shooting ranges, hoping to ensure
they are “good neighbors” regarding sound restrictions and safety
precautions.

A more organized effort may come from the Minnesota Association
of Shooting Facilities and current president Brad Lebeda. According
to Lebeda, whose group’s goal is to support shooting facilities
across the state, the organization is only the second of its kind
in the U.S. State protection of shooting ranges is another goal of
the group, as are a host of other items, including bringing youths
into shooting sports.

“With encroachment from housing and industry, range protection
is getting to be a large issue,” he said. “Proponents (of range
protection) are trying to pass legislation in Minnesota.

“Shooting ranges are big business in the state, just like
hunting and fishing,” he said. “But some shooting ranges, because
of encroachment, have been shut down because they didn’t abide by
local ordinances or weren’t able to defend themselves.”

A baseline of rules most shooting ranges follow and are accepted
by local municipalities that issue use permits is provided by the
National Rifle Association.

“Most shooting ranges try to follow NRA regulations,” Lebeda
said. “But they’re usually small clubs and aren’t real organized.”
He said there are about 350 known ranges in Minnesota.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently editorialized about the
issue, stating, “Frankly, we’re no more sympathetic to people who
want to shut down gun ranges than we are to those who want to close
smelly pig farmers or slaughter houses. Just because an existing
business shatters someone’s vision of country idyll doesn’t mean it
should be sent packing.”

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