DE - New law shields shooting ranges


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August 10, 2004, 04:15 PM
http://www.delawareonline.com/newsjournal/local/2004/08/09newlawshieldssh.html


New law shields shooting ranges
Minner supported measure to stop nuisance suits

By PATRICK JACKSON
Dover Bureau reporter
08/09/2004

As John Thompson considers improvements to the Brandywine Hundred Rod and Gun Club near Port Penn, he says he can rest a little easier knowing its outdoor shooting ranges now are safe from nuisance lawsuits.

Under a law signed last month by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the state's existing outdoor shooting ranges can't be sued by new suburban neighbors who are annoyed by gunfire. The law also prohibits county and municipal governments from bowing to pressure and writing nuisance control laws that could put the ranges out of business.

Currently, 45 other states have laws similar to Delaware's. John Sigler, a Dover lawyer and the National Rifle Association's second vice president, likened the law to a similar measure passed several years ago that protects farmers from new suburban neighbors who are annoyed by the smells of a working farm and the late hours that farm machinery can be used.

"Ten or 15 years ago, this wasn't an issue," he said. "Most ranges were out in areas where no one would think of living. But all that's changing. Nuisance suits haven't been a problem in Delaware, but they are a tactic that has been used in other places, and we were trying to be proactive."

Although suburban encroachment has forced it to move several times over the year, Thompson said the group now owns its land on Thorntown Road and has good relations with its neighbors. In fact, its current closest neighbor is a club member. He said the group also tries to be a good neighbor by restricting the hours the firing line can be used and helping area road cleanup efforts.

But with growth pushing ever closer to the roughly 200-acre site, litigation is a concern, said Thompson, who is president of the Brandywine Hundred club as well as the Delaware State Sportsmen's Association.

"It only takes defending one suit to put some people out of business," he said. "We don't have problems with our neighbors now - in fact, most of them like us being here because they like the lifestyle and, if we're here, that means no new houses and no new 7-Eleven on the corner. But it only takes one neighbor to change that. That's why this kind of protection is important."

Thompson said shooting sports groups have been trying to get the law enacted for a decade. Sigler said Minner's support was important in helping get the measure through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Sigler and Thompson said the law is an important first step. It only protects existing ranges - something both said they would like to change in the future to encourage the development of other facilities around the state. There are nine privately owned shooting clubs and ranges in the state, according to the National Association of Shooting Ranges' Web site.

Rebecca Folcik, of Bear, was getting in some target practice Saturday at the club near Port Penn. Folcik got into shooting as something to do with her boyfriend and has become a good shot.

"I think it's good that they're protecting the range," she said. "Shooting is a good way to get outdoors and do something, and this is a nice place to shoot."

Michael McDonald, of Dover, agreed, saying it's nice to have a place for target practice. Aside from the indoor shooting range at Shooter's Choice, north of Dover, Thompson said there are no public shooting ranges operating in the county.

"Down there you can go out to a friend's farm to shoot," he said. "But a lot of times you wind up explaining what you were doing to the cops because someone calls reporting gun shots. You need places like this, and I'm glad they're taking care of them."

Reach Patrick Jackson at 678-4274 or pjackson@delawareonline.com.

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