TENNESSEE’S RANGE PROTECTION ACT
Tennessee passed its first range protection act in 1995 as a result of modest lobbying by the National Rifle Association. However, it did not take long to realize that the statute left too many loopholes for those who were intent on shutting down and restricting the number of gun ranges across Tennessee.
The main effect of the 1995 range protection act was to prohibit actions against the range on the basis of common law nuisance relative to noise complaints. That simply left too many grey areas. Although it was difficult to shut down an existing gun range based upon noise complaints, it is clear that substantial effort was expended devising alternative legal theories on which to close down gun ranges. As a result of the lessons learned from 1995 through 2003, the Tennessee Firearms Association proposed legislation in 2003 which was supported by the National Rifle Association. That proposed legislation finally became law in 2004.
Tennessee Range Protection Act of 2004 now adds substantially more protection for new and existing ranges. Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-316, as rewritten in 2004, now provides:
(a) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) “Local unit of government” means a county, municipality, metropolitan government, or other entity of local government;
(2) “Person” means an individual, proprietorship, partnership, corporation, club, or other legal entity; and
(3) “Sport shooting range” or “range” means an area designed and operated for the use of rifles, shotguns, pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder, archery, or any other shooting activity.
(b)(1) A person who operates or uses a sport shooting range is not subject to civil or criminal liability for noise or noise pollution, nuisance or any other claim not involving physical injury to another human, resulting from the operation or use of the sport shooting range as a sport shooting range if the sport shooting range is in compliance with any applicable noise control laws, resolutions, ordinances or regulations issued by a unit of local government, that applied to the range at the time that the range began operation.
(2) A person or entity that operates or uses a sport shooting range is not subject to an action for nuisance, abatement, or any other type of action or proceeding which would have the effect of limiting, reducing, eliminating or enjoining the use or operation of the sport shooting range as a sport shooting range if the sport shooting range is in compliance with any applicable noise control laws, resolutions, ordinances or regulations issued by a unit of local government, that applied to the range and its operation at the time that the range began operation.
(3) A person who subsequently acquires title to or who owns real property adversely affected by the use of property with a sport shooting range shall not maintain any action against the owner of the range to restrain, enjoin, or impede the use of the range except to the extent allowed by this section.
(4) Rules or regulations adopted by any state department or agency for limiting levels of noise in terms of decibel level which may occur in the outdoor atmosphere shall not apply to a sport shooting range exempted from liability under this section.
(5) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, nothing in this section shall be construed to limit civil liability for compensatory damage arising from physical injury to another human, physical injury to tangible personal property, or physical injury to fixtures or structures placed on real property.
(c) To the extent that any sport shooting range has been issued permission, whether by special exception, variance, or otherwise, by any entity having zoning or zoning appeal authority to operate as a range, the right to operate as a range shall not be amended, restricted, or terminated due to a change of circumstances regarding the use of adjacent or surrounding properties.
(d) With respect to any range that is open to the public and that begins operation after July 1, 2004, and for which there are no local zoning resolutions, ordinances or regulations affecting its establishment as a sport shooting range as of the date it began operation, such range shall not be protected by the exemptions from nuisance actions contained herein until one (1) year after the date the sport shooting range begins operation.