Friday, August 20, 2021

Third Circuit Allows Case Challenging Firing Range Zoning Restrictions to Move Forward

The Third Circuit ruled earlier this week that a lower court erred in dismissing a shooting-range owner's challenge to two local zoning ordinances that restrict how and where a shooting range can operate. The ruling is preliminary: it only means that the case can move forward to the merits, and that the local government, Robinson Township, Pennsylvania, has a chance to show that its zoning rules survive Second Amendment scrutiny. 

The case, Drummond v. Robinson Township, tests two zoning ordinances that affect the plaintiff's gun range. The first ordinance limits gun clubs to "pistol range, skeet shoot, trap and skeet, and rim-fire rifles," and disallows center-fire rifles. The second ordinance prohibits a for-profit entity from running a shooting range in one of the Township's zoning districts, but allows them in two others.

The district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the plaintiff failed to establish a Second Amendment case. But the Third Circuit reversed.

The court ruled first that the ordinances were subject to Second Amendment scrutiny. The court ruled that "neither type of regulation rests on deep historical foundations, so both challenged rules attract heightened scrutiny."

The court next applied intermediate scrutiny. It ruled that "[a]t the outset, there is no doubt that the ordinance promotes a substantial government interest. It aims to advance 'public health, safety and welfare.'" But it went on to say that the Township failed at this stage of the litigation to show that its ordinances were sufficiently tailored to meet that interest. It said that because the ordinances were "outliers," the wind was against them. (That's because "[w]hen a challenged law has few analogues, it raises concern 'that the [government] has too readily foregone options that could serve its interests just as well, without substantially burdening' protected conduct.'") It also said that the Township (again, at this early stage of the litigation) failed to show that it "'seriously considered' more targeted tools for achieving its ends."

The court remanded the case for further proceedings.

Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink


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