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At the Inquiry Answer Service, we answer, on average, more than 300 questions for our subscribers each month. We consult a variety of sources to create a custom response — which may include APA publications, sample ordinances and plans, articles and literature from partner organizations, and the most current information available online — for each question.
Each month, we choose one question to feature here, so you can see what your peers around the country are asking and how we answered. When your organization subscribes to PAS, you and your colleagues will also have access to the You Asked. We Answered. Archive.
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.
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.
- Blue Earth (Minnesota), County of. 2013. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 24, Zoning; Article IV, Requirements and Standards; Section 24-303(l), Performance Standards – Indoor and Outdoor Firing Ranges.
- Boone (North Carolina), Town of. 2014. Unified Development Code. Title IV, Districts and Uses; Article 15, District Use Requirements; Section 15.34, Indoor Shooting Range.
- Fayette (Georgia), County of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 110, Zoning; Article V, Conditional Uses, Nonconformances, Transportation Corridor Overlay Zone, and Commercial Development Standards; Section 110-174, Commercial Development Standards; part rr, Shooting Range, Indoor; part ss, Shooting Range, Outdoor.
- Frederick (Colorado), Town of. 2016. Land Use Code. Article 1, General Provisions; Section 1.15, Definitions. Also see Article 3, Zoning; Table 3-1, Table of Permitted Uses. Also see Section 3.4, Matrix of Permitted, Conditional, and Special Uses by Zoning District; part 2b, Specific Use Standards; part 8, Residential Protection Standards; part c(iv), Limitations on Permitted Uses – Indoor Shooting Range; and part 26, Development Standards for Outdoor Shooting Ranges.
- Henderson (North Carolina), County of. 2014. Request for Board Action: Special Use Permit Application (SUP-14-03) an Outdoor Shooting Range for Flat Rock Shooting Range. August 27.
- Kitsap (Washington), County of. 2013. "Shooting Range Operational Permit."
- Martin (Florida), County of. 2016. Land Development Code. Article 3, Zoning Districts; Division 2, Standard Zoning Districts; Table 3.11.2, Permitted Uses – Category “A” Nonresidential Uses. Also see Division 3, Standards for Specific Uses; Section 3.99, Shooting Range, Indoor. Section 3.99.1, Shooting Range, Outdoor.
- McHenry (Illinois), County of. 2016. Unified Development Ordinance. Article 2, Definitions. See also Article 8, Zoning Districts and Map; Table 8-1, Zoning District Uses. See also Article 14, Use Standards; Section 14.3.OO, Shooting Range, Outdoor - Commercial.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2003. Outdoor Shooting Ranges: Best Practices.
- National Rifle Association. 2012. “The NRA Range Sourcebook.”
- National Sports Shooting Foundation, Facility Development Division. 1997. Environmental Aspects of Construction and Management of Outdoor Shooting Ranges. Newtown, Conn.: NSSF.
- North Muskegon (Michigan), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 35, Indoor Firearms Shooting Ranges; Article II, License. Also see Appendix A, Zoning; Chapter 3, General Provisions; Section 3.35, Indoor Firearms Shooting Ranges. Also see Chapter 17, Special Land Uses; Section 17.06(EE), Special Land Use Specific Design Standards – Indoor Firearms Shooting Ranges.
- Pitt (North Carolina), County of. 2012. “Shooting Range Regulations.” Planning and Development Services Ordinance no. 9.
- Portage (Wisconsin), County of. 2012. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 7, Zoning Ordinances; Section III, Rural Districts; Section 18.104.22.168, General Agricultural Districts; Part C(8), Special Exception Uses – Shooting Ranges.
- Rocha, Erica, and Dwight Merriam. 2013. "Don't Shoot From the Hip: Plan and Regulate Shooting Ranges." Zoning Practice, December.
- Teller (Colorado), County of, Planning Commission. 2013. Agenda Item No. IV: Teller County Shooting Society Special Use Permit for a Private Recreational Facility - File No. SUP-00105(13). June 11. Available at
- U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Health, Safety and Security. 2012. Range Design Criteria.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2. 2005. Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges. EPA-902-B-01-001.
- Urbana (Illinois), City of, Department of Community Development Services, Planning Division. 2012. "Memorandum: An Amendment to Establish Standards for 'Firearm Store' and 'Private Indoor Firing Range.'" August 16.
- Vermont Legislative Research Service. N.d. "The Effects of Firing Ranges in Vermont: How Lead and Noise Impact Communities." University of Vermont.
- Westminster (Maryland), City of. 2015. Municipal Code. Chapter 164, Zoning and Subdivision of Land; Article XX, Special Provisions; Section 164-155.1, Indoor Shooting Ranges.
- Xenia (Ohio), City of. 2015. Code of Ordinances. Part 12, Planning and Zoning Code; Title 6, Zoning; Chapter 1272, I-1 Light Industrial Districts; Section 1272.02, Permitted Principal Uses; part u, Indoor Shooting Range.
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