Wisconsin significantly limits the authority of local governments to regulate firearms. Wisconsin Statute § 66.0409(2) provides that no political subdivision (defined as a city, village, town, or county1.) may enact an ordinance or adopt a resolution that:

[R]egulates the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration or taxation of any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.

Notwithstanding this prohibition, there are limited ways local governments may regulate firearms:

  •  Sales and Use Taxes: Counties may impose certain sales or use taxes on “any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, sold in the county.”2
  • Discharge: Cities, villages, or towns authorized to exercise village powers under section 60.22(3) may impose restrictions on the discharge of firearms.3 However, any ordinance or resolution that restricts firearms discharge is inapplicable if the actor’s conduct “is justified” or would be subject to a privileged defense from criminal liability.4
  • Pre-November 18, 1995 Ordinances:  Political subdivisions may continue to enforce any ordinance or resolution in effect on November 18, 1995 that regulates the sale, purchase, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration or taxation of any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, if the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.5 If any ordinance or resolution is not the same as or similar to a state statute, it has no legal effect and the ordinance or regulation may not be enforced on or after November 18, 1995.6
  • Construction of sport shooting ranges: Political subdivisions are not preempted from enacting and enforcing a zoning ordinance that regulates the new construction of a sport shooting range or when the expansion of an existing sport shooting range would impact public health and safety.7 Pursuant to section 66.0409(1)(c), a “sport shooting range” is defined as “an area designed and operated for the practice of weapons used in hunting, skeet shooting and similar sport shooting.”

Wisconsin law also restricts local governments’ ability to regulate sport shooting ranges. Section 895.527(4) provides that any sport shooting range in existence on July 16, 2013 may continue to operate as a sport shooting range at its current location, notwithstanding various zoning codes,8 if the sport shooting range is a lawful use or a legal nonconforming use under any zoning ordinance in effect on July 16, 2013.9 The operation of the sport shooting range continues to be a lawful use or legal nonconforming use notwithstanding any expansion of, or enhancement or improvement to, the range.

In addition, any sport shooting range in existence on June 18, 1998, may continue to operate notwithstanding:

  • Section 167.30 (prohibiting discharge of a firearm near parks), section 941.20(1)(d) (prohibiting discharge of a firearm within 100 yards of any building “devoted to human occupancy”), section 948.605 (gun free school zone provisions) or any rule promulgated under those sections regulating or prohibiting the discharge of firearms;
  • The power of a city, village or town to enact ordinances or adopt resolutions restricting the discharge of a firearm (per section 66.0409(3)(b)); or
  • Any zoning ordinance that is enacted, or resolution that is adopted, under local governmental powers pursuant to sections 59.69, 60.61, 60.62, 61.35 or 62.23(7) that is related to noise.10

However, subject to limited exceptions, a city, village, town or county may regulate an outdoor sport shooting range’s hours of operation between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.11

In the absence of criminal or malicious intent, a person may not be charged with violating a local ordinance relating to disorderly conduct for loading, carrying, or going armed with a firearm.12

The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin has interpreted local government’s ability to enact and enforce zoning ordinances that apply to sport shooting ranges under portions of both section 66.0409 and section 895.527.13 In Town of Avon v. Oliver, the court upheld the Town of Avon’s permanent injunction prohibiting defendant property owner from using a portion of his land as a sport shooting range because the defendant had not obtained the proper conditional use permit to use a section of his property as a shooting range on property zoned for agricultural use.14

The court held that section 66.0409(4)(c), by its own terms, does not prohibit municipalities from enacting and enforcing zoning ordinances that apply to sport shooting ranges.15 Furthermore, the court found that portions of sections 895.527(4)-(5) do not prohibit the application of a zoning ordinance to a sport shooting range, unless the range was a lawful or legal nonconforming use under the ordinance as of June 18, 1998.16 The court found that the defendant’s use was not lawful as of that date and thus held that the town could permanently enjoin use of the range.17

Notes
  1. Wis. Stat. § 66.0409(1)(b ⤴︎
  2. Wis. Stat. §  66.0409(3)(a). ⤴︎
  3. Wis. Stat. §  66.0409(3)(b). ⤴︎
  4. Wis. Stat.  §66.0409 (3) (b). ⤴︎
  5. Wis. Stat. § 66.0409(4)(a). ⤴︎
  6. Wis. Stat. § 66.0409(4)(b). ⤴︎
  7. Wis. Stat. § 66.0409(4)(c). ⤴︎
  8. Notwithstanding zoning ordinances enacted under sections 59.69 (county planning and zoning authority), 59.692 (zoning authority for shorelands on navigable waters), 60.61 (general zoning authority for towns), 60.62 (zoning authority for towns exercising village powers), 61.35 (village planning authority) or 62.23(7) (city zoning and planning). ⤴︎
  9. Wis. Stat. § 895.527(4). ⤴︎
  10. Wis. Stat. § 895.527(5). ⤴︎
  11. Wis. Stat. § 895.527(6). ⤴︎
  12. Wis. Stat.  § 66.0409(6). ⤴︎
  13. 253 Wis. 2d 647 (2002). ⤴︎
  14. Id. ⤴︎
  15. Id. ⤴︎
  16. Id. ⤴︎
  17. Id. ⤴︎