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May 2016: You Asked.

How do communities regulate shooting ranges?

We are being tasked with developing zoning regulations specific to shooting ranges, so I would like to see examples from other communities and information on impacts and successful mitigation.

We Answered.

A number of communities have adopted zoning regulations for shooting ranges. Outdoor ranges are typically special or conditional uses in agricultural, industrial, or similar districts. Ordinance provisions focus on setbacks from property lines and nearby structures, often require fencing or berms/barriers or other safety and security structures, and can include limitations on hours of operation and other operational and safety standards.

Indoor shooting ranges are usually permitted in certain business, manufacturing, or industrial districts subject to conformance with listed standards or as conditional or special uses. Some communities include distancing requirements from residential uses. Most also address soundproofing and prevention of noise nuisances, as well as specific building construction standards to protect against ammunition escape; some also specify operational standards, including limitations on hours of operation.

Most ordinances leave detailed design criteria to federal and industry standards; for example, by referencing the standards provided by the National Rifle Association's Sourcebook, or the U.S. DOE Office of Health, Safety, and Security's publication on range design criteria.

The main negative impacts of shooting ranges are safety issues, noise, and potential lead contamination. Protection from stray bullets and noise nuisances are the greatest concerns with regard to proximity of firing ranges to residential areas, though lead from ordnance is the greater environmental concern. The proper management of spent ammunition is important to minimize human exposure and avoid significant negative impacts on wetlands and wildlife.

Safety is largely addressed through required setbacks from property lines and residential areas or structures, as well as range design that establishes adequate backstops, protective berms, and other design and structural safety protections. For outdoor shooting ranges, setbacks can be on the order of 500 to 2,500 feet, but the specifics can vary widely. Because indoor shooting ranges are contained and enclosed, they are acceptable in a wider range of districts, so often communities will adopt distancing requirements from residential uses, structures, or public rights of way.

Noise impacts can be mitigated through enhanced setbacks as well as a number of different approaches. Operational approaches include controlling hours of operation or scheduling of range use to reduce noise impacts at certain times, and controlling the number of individuals using the range and the types of equipment they are shooting. Siting considerations are most important when first considering sites or laying out shooting range design. Engineering approaches include adding walls, boxes, sound panels, and other structures to dampen or deflect sound, as well as incorporating vegetated berms into the site design for sound attenuation as well as safety. Finally, vegetation, including evergreen trees and fast-growing shrubbery, can help absorb sound as well as provide visual screening.


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