Seventh Circuit Temporarily Blocks Chicago Gun Range Ban

Today’s Ezell v. City of Chicago issues a preliminary injunction against the operation of the Chicago gun range ban:

The City’s firing‐range ban is not merely regulatory; it prohibits the “law‐abiding, responsible citizens” of Chicago from engaging in target practice in the controlled environment of a firing range. This is a serious encroachment on the right to maintain proficiency in firearm use, an important corollary to the meaningful exercise of the core right to possess firearms for self‐defense. That the City conditions gun possession on range training is an additional reason to closely scrutinize the range ban. All this suggests that a more rigorous showing than that applied in Skoien should be required, if not quite “strict scrutiny.”

To be appropriately respectful of the individual rights at issue in this case, the City bears the burden of establishing a strong public‐interest justification for its ban on range training: The City must establish a close fit between the range ban and the actual public interests it serves, and also that the public’s interests are strong enough to justify so substantial an encumbrance on individual Second Amendment rights. Stated differently, the City must demonstrate that civilian target practice at a firing range creates such genuine and serious risks to public safety that prohibiting range training throughout the city is justified.

At this stage of the proceedings, the City has not come close to satisfying this standard. In the district court, the City presented no data or expert opinion to support the range ban, so we have no way to evaluate the seriousness of its claimed public‐safety concerns. Indeed, on this record those concerns are entirely speculative and, in any event, can be addressed through sensible zoning and other appropriately tailored regulations. That much is apparent from the testimony of the City’s own witnesses, particularly Sergeant Bartoli, who testified to several common‐sense range safety measures that could be adopted short of a complete ban.

The City maintains that firing ranges create the risk of accidental death or injury and attract thieves wanting to steal firearms. But it produced no evidence to establish that these are realistic concerns, much less that they warrant a total prohibition on firing ranges. In the First Amendment context, the government must supply actual, reliable evidence to justify restricting protected expression based on secondary public‐safety effects.

By analogy here, the City produced no empirical evidence whatsoever and rested its entire defense of the range ban on speculation about accidents and theft. Much of the focus in the district court was on the possible hazards of mobile firing ranges. The City hypothesized that one cause of range‐related injury could be stray bullets, but this seems highly implausible insofar as a properly equipped indoor firing range is concerned. The district court credited the plaintiffs’ evidence that “mobile ranges are next to Sam’s Clubs and residences and shopping malls and in parking lots, and there’s not been any difficulties with them in those places.”

Commissioner Scudiero acknowledged that the law‐enforcement and private‐security firing ranges in Chicago are located near schools, churches, parks, and stores, and they operate safely in those locations. And Sergeant Bartoli testified about the availability of straightforward range‐design measures that can effectively guard against accidental injury. He mentioned, for example, that ranges should be fenced and should designate appropriate locations for the loading and unloading of firearms. Other precautionary measures might include limiting the concentration of people and firearms in a range’s facilities, the times when firearms can be loaded, and the types of ammunition allowed.

At the preliminary‐injunction hearing, the City highlighted an additional public‐safety concern also limited to mobile ranges: the risk of contamination from lead residue left on range users’ hands after firing a gun. Sergeant Bartoli was asked a series of questions about the importance of hand‐washing after shooting; he said that “lucrative amounts of [cold running] water and soap” were required to ensure that lead contaminants were removed. The City argued below that mobile firing ranges might not be sufficiently equipped for this purpose, suggesting that mobile ranges would have inadequate restroom facilities and might have to rely on “port‐a‐potties.” This sparked a discussion about the adequacy of the water supply available at a standard “port‐a‐potty.” The City continued on this topic until the judge cut it short by acknowledging her own familiarity with “port‐a‐potties.” On appeal the City raised but did not dwell on its concern about lead contamination. For good reason: It cannot be taken seriously as a justification for banishing all firing ranges from the city. To raise it at all suggests pretext.

Perhaps the City can muster sufficient evidence to justify banning firing ranges everywhere in the city, though that seems quite unlikely. As the record comes to us at this stage of the proceedings, the firing‐range ban is wholly out of proportion to the public interests the City claims it serves. Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim has a strong likelihood of success on the merits.

Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer, and congratulations to lawyer Alan Gura, who is adding to his already very impressive record of victories in Second Amendment cases.