Appeals court shoots down challenge to Jefferson gun-range law

Plaintiffs considering appeal to state’s high court

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County’s 2018 law regulating commercial shooting ranges is a valid exercise of the county’s police power and does not violate state or federal constitutional rights to bear arms, according to a state Court of Appeals opinion.

In November 2018, after the county adopted rules governing the permitted operation of shooting ranges in unincorporated areas, Sequim resident Joe D’Amico’s Fort Discovery Corp. and three other plaintiffs sought to invalidate the new rules by suing the county in Clallam County Superior Court.

In particular, the lawsuit took issue with a provision restricting shooting at commercial ranges after dark, arguing it violates state law, the state constitution and federal Second Amendment rights.

Attorney Greg Overstreet, who represents Fort Discovery and the other plaintiffs, said they are still weighing a potential appeal — a decision that must be made within 20 days — before the opinion, issued Wednesday, becomes an official court mandate.

“If I know Joe D’Amico, we will probably file an appeal with the state Supreme Court,” he said.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy said he’s happy with the outcome after two years of waiting.

“Countless hours were spent researching and briefing this case because the Plaintiffs wrongly tried to turn the County’s ordinance into an attack on gun rights,” Kennedy said in an emailed statement, pointing out that the ordinance balances the right to bear arms with the need to protect public safety and the environment.

“Jefferson County is not anti-gun or anti-gun rights,” he said.

The ordinance, which amended its Health and Safety (Title 8) code, was largely based on a Kitsap County ordinance that had been challenged and subsequently upheld by the same appeals court in 2017.

“The decision also confirms the wisdom in the County’s strategic plan to closely model its operating permit ordinance for commercial shooting facilities on Kitsap County’s ordinance,” Kennedy wrote, which “was upheld by the Court of Appeals in the 2017 Kitsap Rifle case on similar legal challenges.”

A key difference between the Kitsap and Jefferson ordinances, however, was the after-dark shooting restriction.

That and other regulations would uniquely affect D’Amico’s outdoor Fort Discovery gun range in Jefferson County, which he had closed in 2017 with plans to move the range to a 40-acre site near Tarboo Lake.

Fort Discovery and a range operated by the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association were the only two gun ranges in the county, and Fort Discovery was the only one that offered night shooting.

In December 2017, the county adopted a yearlong moratorium on new gun ranges in order to develop its ordinance, putting the permitting process for D’Amico’s proposed new gun range on hold.

The Jefferson case also differs from Kitsap in that the court considered whether the ordinance’s restrictions are out of step with the historical context of the Second Amendment.

The court agreed with the county that similar restrictions by governments upon commercial gun ranges can be traced to the time period during which the Second Amendment was drafted.

For example, the opinion cites a “1790 Ohio statute that prohibited the discharge of a firearm before sunrise, after sunset, or within one-quarter of a mile from the nearest building.”

“Because these types of restrictions can be traced to the founding era,” the opinion says, “they were not then considered to infringe on the rights enumerated in the Second Amendment.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by email at [email protected].

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