In Illinois, owners or operators of firearm ranges in existence on January 1, 1994 are not subject to any action for public or private nuisance or trespass, and no court shall enjoin the use or operation of a firearm range on the basis of noise or sound emissions resulting from the normal use of the firearm range.1 Owners or operators of firearm ranges placed in operation after January 1, 1994 are not subject to any action for public or private nuisance or trespass arising out of or as a consequence of noise or sound emissions resulting from the normal use of the firearm range, if the firearm range conforms to any one of the following requirements:
- All areas from which a firearm may be properly discharged are at least 1,000 yards from any occupied permanent dwelling on adjacent property;
- All areas from which a firearm may be properly discharged are enclosed by a permanent building or structure that absorbs or contains sound energy escaping from the muzzle of firearms in use;
- If the firearm range is situated on land otherwise subject to land use zoning, the firearm range is in compliance with the requirements of the zoning authority;
- The firearm range is operated by a governmental entity or is licensed by the Department of Natural Resources; or
- The firearm range met the 1,000-yard restriction described in the first bullet point, above, at the time the range began its operation and subsequently an occupied permanent dwelling on adjacent property was built within 1,000 yards from an area of the range from which a firearm may be properly discharged.2
In 2004, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs in two cases against the firearms industry, City of Chicago v. Beretta Corp., 821 N.E.2d 1099 (Ill. 2004), brought by the City of Chicago and Cook County, and Young v. Bryco Arms, 821 N.E.2d 1078 (Ill. 2004), brought by private plaintiffs. In both cases the Illinois Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions and held that the plaintiffs could not pursue public nuisance claims under state law.
Plaintiffs made similar allegations in both cases: plaintiffs asserted public nuisance claims against various gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers, claiming that their marketing and distribution practices intentionally and unreasonably interfered with the public’s right to use Chicago’s streets and other public areas without fear for their lives or the risk of injury. Plaintiffs claimed that the defendants were responsible for intentionally creating and maintaining a public nuisance – an underground market of firearms – in which defendants marketed and sold handguns made to appeal to juveniles and criminals. Further, plaintiffs claimed these manufacturers and distributors intentionally created and fostered an environment that encouraged purchasers to illegally transport handguns into Chicago and flood that market with such weapons. At the time of the lawsuits, Chicago banned the possession of handguns. Chicago bans the sale of handguns.
The Illinois Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ claims in their entirety, holding that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for public nuisance against the defendants. The court concluded that the manufacturer and distributor defendants owed no duty to the City of Chicago or its residents to prevent the defendants’ firearms from ending up in the hands of criminals. With respect to the dealer defendants, the court found that these defendants could not be legally responsible for the alleged nuisance which resulted from the intervening criminal acts of third parties (i.e., the shooters) over whom the defendants had no control. The court also cited “strong public policy reasons” in favor of deferring the matter of regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of firearms to the legislature. In a strongly-worded concurrence in the Young case, five of seven justices described the plaintiffs’ factual allegations as “disturbing,” and urged the Illinois legislature to address the issue. The plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing in City of Chicago v. Beretta Corp. was denied. City of Chicago v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., 2005 Ill. LEXIS 12 (Ill. Jan. 24, 2005).
To read the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion in Young v. Bryco Arms, click here; for the court’s opinion in City of Chicago v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., click here.
See our policy page on Gun Industry Immunity for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.