The NC Court of Appeals upheld Franklin County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) in a split decision in 2014. Their ruling upheld a Superior Court ruling denying the plaintiffs the ability to build a shooting range.
Aaron Byrd and Eric Coombs had sought to build a shooting range on property they owned in the county. The county’s Planning Director has first told them they couldn’t do it because the UDO didn’t list it as an approved use. The Director later amended his decision to say that Byrd and Coombs could have a range if they applied for a special use permit under the Open Air Games classification. They applied to the Franklin County Board of Commissioners for this special use permit in December 2012 and were denied.
Shortly thereafter, Byrd and Coombs were issued notices that they were in violation of the zoning code and they must “cease and desist” all activities related to the shooting range. They appealed the Code Officer’s notices to the county’s Board of Adjustment. (As an aside, I served on the Town of Wayneville’s Board of Adjustment for 19 years.) The Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial board whose rulings can be appealed to the Superior Court. They were turned down here and made a timely appeal to Superior Court. As noted in the first paragraph, the Superior Court upheld the ruling of the Board of Adjustment.
Byrd and Coombs contend that since the UDO made no mention of regulating shooting ranges, then they don’t need approval from the county to build their range. Moreover, they said that classifying a shooting range as an Open Air Game was in error. Finally, they argued that an earlier Court of Appeals case, Land v. Village of Wesley Chapel, has set the precedent in their favor.
The opinion of the Court of Appeals stated they agreed that the classification of the shooting range as an Open Air Game was erroneous. They they went on to say this:
However, we disagree with
Petitioners that the UDO does not regulate shooting ranges at
all, but it does in fact prohibit shooting ranges anywhere in
the County by providing that “[u]ses not specifically listed in
the Table  are prohibited.” Accordingly, we hold that the
superior court did not err in affirming the County’s order that
Petitioners cease and desist from operating a shooting range on
Judge Robert Hunter dissented from this opinion in part saying that he thought the Land case precedent on shooting ranges ruled in this case. It should be noted that Judge Hunter wrote the opinion in the Land case. He said the Land case “cited long-standing precedent in
rejecting the notion that a zoning ordinance may prohibit uses
not explicitly allowed.”
Byrd and Coombs have now appealed this decision to the NC Supreme Court. On Friday, the Second Amendment Foundation filed an amicus brief on behalf on the plaintiffs. The SAF’s amicus brief was submitted by Raleigh attorney Camden Webb of Williams Mullin.
The Second Amendment Foundation amicus brief notes that this case does not only involve a judicial interpretation of the county’s UDO but “implicates an important Constitutional question.” The Court of Appeals by saying that the UDO prohibits shooting ranges in Franklin County is allowing “the impermissable infringement of the Second Amendment rights of the people of Franklin County, North Carolina.”
After discussing Heller, McDonald, and the appropriate level of scrutiny, the brief goes on to discuss the 7th Circuit’s ruling in the Ezell case. There the court said the the City of Chicago’s banning of all shooting ranges within the city limits was unconstitutional saying, in part, “the core right wouldn’t mean much without the training and practice to make it effective.” The brief argues that the 7th Circuit’s reasoning should apply in this case. The brief further argues that the county did not establish a close fit between the banning of a range and the public good or interest that it serves. Given the county is primarily rural, they say the “complete prohibition of a shooting ranges in such a county simply cannot pass constitutional muster.”
I’m glad the Second Amendment Foundation filed an amicus brief in this case. The precedent set by the Ezell case must be strongly defended and this brief does that. Alan Gottlieb noted that the SAF had to sue Chicago over this same issue.