Court Decision Alters Sport Shooting Ranges Act (SSRA) As We Know It

The 1989 Sport Shooting Ranges Act

How a Recent Michigan Court of Appeals Decision Stripped the Act of Its Own Purpose

In 1989 the Michigan Legislature passed the original version of the Sport Shooting Ranges Act (SSRA) with the designed purpose of preserving and protecting existing shooting ranges throughout the state from the pressures of urban sprawl that continue to this day. As the population in the metro and suburban areas began to spread into the outlying rural areas, the pre-existing shooting ranges were often subjected to numerous lawsuits that often led to their closures or limited use.       
            The SSRA legislation was introduced by Representative Philip Hoffman, and co-sponsored by Senator Christopher Dingell as H.B. 5056 in 1989. The bill was introduced with the intention of providing shooting ranges, and those involved with them, immunity from liability and lawsuits initiated by local governments or neighbors based on noise pollution or nuisance.
            In 1994, the SSRA saw an amendment that would serve to expand its protections to include a preemption that would not allow local governments to regulate the operations or expansion of existing ranges so long as they complied with “generally accepted operating practices.”
            Since the changes made to the SSRA in 1994, the act has continued to provide sport shooting ranges the protections needed to continue their operations. Though there have been no significant changes to the act since its 1994 amendment, the very purpose of the SSRA has been stripped as a result of an unsubstantiated ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals. In their holding, the court ruled that the protections of the SSRA would be limited to only those sport shooting ranges that operate without any intent to use the range for business or commercial purposes.
            The case is now in the Michigan Supreme Court as Township of Addison v. Jerry Kline Barnhart, and MUCC has already taken the initiative to file an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Defendant, and more particularly against the policy set forth by the lower court. MUCC has taken a passionate role in this case due to the tremendous impact that the ruling could have on MUCC members, their shooting ranges, and gun rights in general.
            Under the current reading of the Court of Appeals holding, a vast majority of sport shooting ranges throughout the state would be stripped of the SSRA protections because they charge for membership fees, shooting lessons and other instructional courses, and the sale of ammunition and equipment. Most clubs offer these services for a charge, not only keep the operation running, but also to invest in new or improved facilities for the club and range.
            If the decision by the Court of Appeals in this case stands, it will serve to remove the very purpose of the statute, and gut the protections it rightly affords to existing shooting ranges. The intent of the SSRA was clear in its policy to protect ranges from urban sprawl, and made no mention of whether a range would be exempted from its protections merely because it participated in commercial exercises.
In fact, the SSRA most certainly implies that sport shooting ranges are allowed to conduct commercial operations and still fall under its protections. Within the “definitions” section of the statute, the language considers all “persons” to be protected by the act to mean “an individual, proprietorship, partnership, corporation, club . . .”
Based on general knowledge and logic, the inclusion of “proprietorship,” “partnership” and “corporations” all infer the acceptability of a profit-seeking entity to be included under the protections of the SSRA. Therefore, for the Court of Appeals to instead hold that any commercial purpose for running a shooting range – whether it be for profit or not - would exclude the range from the SSRA is both unfounded and illogical.
MUCC will continue to update its members and the public on the issue, and will post more blogs in the near future providing more in-depth information on the SSRA, the Court of Appeals Decision, and what MUCC is doing to protect our sport shooting rights.

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