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April 04, 2014

MSC finds defendant’s shooting range was a “sports shooting range” and exempt from compliance with local ordinance

In Addison Township v. Barnhart, the Supreme Court determined that the defendant’s shooting range was entitled to protection from local ordinances under MCL 691.1541a.  The court held that in order for MCL 691.1541a to apply, (1) the range must be a “sports shooting range” that existed as of July 5, 1994, and (2) the shooting range must comply with “generally accepted operation practices.”
After a series of remands and appeals, the Court of Appeals found that Barnhart’s range was not subject to protection under MCL 691.1541a(2).  Barnhart had operated a shooting range on his property since 1993 and used it for recreation as well as competition.  In 2005 the Township cited Barnhart under a local ordinance for operating a shooting range without a zoning compliance permit.  After the district court granted a directed verdict for Barnhart, the Court of Appeals remanded for consideration of whether the range was a “sports shooting range” (MCL 691.1541(d)) and if Barnhart complied with “generally accepted operation practices.”  Subsequently, the district court granted Barnhart’s motion to dismiss, finding Barnhart’s  which the circuit court reversed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding Barnhart’s activities were commercial and thus not subject to protection.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding the Court of Appeals applied the improper analysis when determining whether a range was a “sports shooting range.”  In order for MCL 691.1541a(2) to apply, the range must be a “sports shooting range”, which existed on July 5, 1994, and must comply with “generally accepted operation practices.”  The court began by noting that the Court of Appeals incorrectly read a “commercial purpose” consideration into the statute.  That is, when applying MCL 691.1541(d) a court should focus on the “shooting range’s design and operation,” and not whether the owner has a commercial purpose or makes a profit.  Here, Barnhart’s range was in existence prior to July 5, 1994.  Further, the court reasoned, Barnhart’s used the range for recreational and competitive purposes, both of which were contemplated uses under MCL 591.1541(d).  Finally, a DNR officer’s affidavit supported the fact that Barnhart’s use complied with “generally accepted operation practices.”  Moreover, although Barnhart may have failed to comply with some technical requirements of the National Rifle Association’s Manual, according to the DNR, the Manual is an advisory guide, thus Barnhart’s failure to strictly comply did not demonstrate a failure to comply with “generally accepted operation practices.”
Accordingly, the Supreme Court found Barnhart’s range was protecting from local ordinances under MCL 691.1542a(2) and remanded to the district court to dismiss the case.

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