The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently weighed in on the interaction between an individual’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and a municipality’s right to regulate shooting ranges within its borders. In Barris v. Stroud Township, President Judge P. Kevin Brobson, writing for the majority, held that,
“an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to maintain proficiency in firearm use via a personal shooting range on one’s property should [not] be contingent on owning property or residing [in one of two Township zoning districts.]”
In so holding, the Commonwealth Court struck down a Township ordinance that regulated the discharge of firearms within the Township. The ordinance permitted shooting ranges only on parcels of at least five acres in size and only in two zoning districts. The Township’s rationale for the restriction was based upon public safety, but the Township did not articulate specific details tying the type of restriction imposed to the claimed safety interest.
A Township resident who had been operating a personal shooting range on his 4.6 acre property sued, arguing that the ordinance unconstitutionally restricted his rights under the Second Amendment. After losing at the trial court, the resident appealed. Applying intermediate scrutiny, the Commonwealth Court held that while the Second Amendment does not grant an individual the right to discharge a firearm whenever he or she pleases, neither does it allow municipalities to regulate their discharge without articulating a “reasonable fit between the asserted interest and the challenged ordinance, such that the ordinance does not burden more conduct that is reasonably necessary.” The Court chastised the Township for failing to articulate the safety reasons that it claimed a partial ban would promote and struck down the ordinance.
The Commonwealth Court cautioned that while the ordinance violated an individual’s Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use, it suggested that regulations tied to demonstrable municipal interests – such as requiring safety inspections, minimum setback requirements, and safety measures like backstops and range orientation – would likely pass muster.
Accordingly, municipalities seeking to regulate the discharge of firearms – through zoning or otherwise – must be careful to articulate legitimate reasons for proposed restrictions. They must also ensure that the restrictions “reasonably fit” the asserted interest and do not ban more conduct than is necessary to accomplish the interest. This may be accomplished through diligent research on safety or other legitimate concerns and factual support that the restrictions imposed actually further the concern the regulation seeks to address.
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