USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Welcome back to The Legal Brief, the show where we CRUSH the various legal myths and misinformation surrounding various areas of the gun world. I'm your host Adam Kraut and today we're talking about a Pennsylvania Township's attack on a gun range that's been there for over 50 years.
While most of the cases we discuss involve a law being passed to prohibit the exercise of the right to keep and bear arms, I think this may be the first time we discussed it from a zoning context. Local governments are typically in charge of dictating the zoning of particular area of land within its borders. In this case, we are talking about a gun range that has been operating for the better part of a century and how the township is trying to put a stop to it.
Our plaintiffs in this case, William Drummond, his LLC and the Second Amendment Foundation are suing Robinson Township, which is just west of Pittsburgh, and its zoning officer, alleging that the township was violating Drummond's Second and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.
A quick backstory on the property is in order. Drummond's grandfather began to operate a range on the property in 1967. According to the complaint it “consisted of a clubhouse and restaurant, as well as the living quarters of its manager and the manager's family, four trap ranges, three skeet ranges, a 25-yard pistol range, a 100-yard rifle sighting range, and a 400-yard rifle range.”
In 1972, Drummond's grandfather passed and left the property to his wife, who in 1990, sold the property to Drummond's uncle while retaining ownership of the club itself. In 2008, Drummond's uncle became a prohibited person and the gun club operations ceased, until 8 years later in 2016, when a company, Iron City, leased the property through the end of 2017. That's when Drummond leased the property from his uncle and this current fiasco began.
You see, prior to this current lawsuit, the Township had tried two separate times to shut the club down. The first attempt came in 1993, when the Township brought a nuisance action against the club. In that lawsuit “the Township admitted that the Gun Club was lawfully operating its business under the Township's zoning ordinance…however, it complained about three matters: the discharge of automatic weapons, which would cease the following year; the club's hours of operation; and projectiles leaving the premises and striking nearby properties,” which the Court found not to be true. The case only took 4 years, but in 1997, the court found in favor of the gun club.
In 2016, while Iron City was operating the club, the Township tried to shut it down again. Iron City had been authorized to operate the property as a club for its members, with a condition that no other commercial operations are allowed on site, including but not limited to sales, gun testing, rentals, or other commercial endeavors. It also prohibited activities related to any Federal Firearms License at the club. In June and July of that year, the Township served Iron City with two cease and desists notices, followed by a decision to revoke its permit based on complaints that the club was selling water, targets and ammunition. An undercover police operation had confirmed that the club sold targets and ammo. Iron City appealed to the Court of Common Pleas and prevailed. Which brings us to the current legal fight.
In January, Drummond spoke to the Zoning Officer for Robinson Township advising him of his intentions to continue the club's operation, and asked what was required of him to take over the Club's operation and remodel. Dorsey, the zoning officer, told Drummond to write him a detailed description of his plans, which he did, and then Dorsey disappeared. He never responded to Drummond's letter or numerous follow-up phone calls.
In February of this year, unbeknownst to Drummond, someone involved in the prior nuisance suit requested expedited action on restrictive zoning amendments targeting the Gun Club at a Township meeting. Two days later, the zoning officer told Drummond he would have to file a zoning application but that it need not be done immediately. A week after that prior meeting, the Township held a Special Meeting for the apparent purpose of considering restrictive zoning to halt the Gun Club's operation. No one advised Drummond that this meeting was being held and yes…the zoning officer attended.
It was not until a few weeks later in mid-March before Drummond was able to meet with the township zoning officer to discuss the plans for the range. He was told to complete the zoning application, which he did, but was never informed of the pending zoning change. A few days later Drummond learned of another special meeting, which he ended up attending and the Township tabled its effort to rezone the property. Unfortunately for him, the Township ultimately adopted amendments to the zoning ordinance in early April, prior to rejecting his application which had been in their possession for over 30 days.
The amendments included, among other things, defining the term “Sportsman's Clubs” to mean a “nonprofit entity formed for conservation of wildlife or game, and to provide members with opportunities for hunting, fishing or shooting” and regulating the clubs to only allow “pistol ranges, skeet shooting, trap and skeet, and rim-fire rifles.” Yup, no centerfire. And that brings us to today.
The lawsuit alleges that restricting the operation of so-called “Sportsman's Clubs” to non-profit entities along with a blanket prohibition on the use of center-fire rifles, without sufficient regard to their suitability at a particular location, infringes on the right to keep and bear arms. It further argues that by treating “Sportsman's Clubs” differently from other businesses, solely on account of activity secured by the Second Amendment, the Township Zoning Ordinance violates the right to equal protection in the exercise of a fundamental right. The suit also claims that the defendants deprived Drummond of his property interest by frustrating and delaying his application to operate the Gun Club, all while they pulled a bait and switch to deny his application. And for good measure, the suit claims that right to pursue a livelihood is a privilege or immunity of federal citizenship that cannot be abridged by state actors under the Fourteenth Amendment, which is exactly what the Township is doing.
Drummond is seeking a permanent injunction against Robinson Township from the enforcement of its new zoning ordinance along with an order commanding the Defendants to issue him all the required permits to operate the club. And like any good lawsuit, he wants attorneys fees. It appears, based on the Defendant's actions, particularly the fact that they knew Drummond was submitting a zoning application but failed to advise him of their plan, that the Township may be in for another smackdown from the courts. Of course, as with any litigation, we have no idea how this will pan out.
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Links for this episode:
Drummond v. Robinson Township: https://s14544.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Drummond-v.-Robinson-Township.pdf
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