Bruce Pankratz: Using Zoning to Limit Assault-style Rifle Violence.

This article is written out of personal curiosity about the merits of an idea. It is personal curiosity not advocacy.

A perhaps new,  interesting idea came long recently along. I cannot remember it being discussed in the many gun posts or articles I have read over the years or in places mentioning solutions to gun violence like the Bloomberg School of Public Health course on gun violence or in Tom Gabor’s recent book ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis.   The idea died as far as I know when Beto O’Rourke stopped running for president. But the idea was not confiscation. It was zoning. 

Recently the Des Moine Register said  “Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Friday he was open to allowing people to use assault-style weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s at gun ranges and hunting clubs, despite his plan to ban the weapons purchase and to require owners of existing weapons to sell them to the government. “ (see Note 1)

America already has some forms of place control or zoning for guns so the idea is not really new.  You usually cannot hunt in a crowded city park or take guns onto private property without the owner’s permission being examples of place control. But applying place control to the so-called assault weapons seems new or at least seldom discussed. The concept described in this article then is to use zoning to help prevent made-for-television mass shootings with assault-style rifles while still letting people own them.

What this all means is there would need to be gun clubs with ranges for people to shoot their assault-style rifles where the rifles would be stored securely at the clubs and owners could clean or maintain their rifles but not take them off premises. Currently unless people live in the middle of nowhere they probably would have to go to a range to shoot anyway. The difference then would be the rifles stay at the club with the range so people cannot tinker with the guns at home in their basements. The clubs would need to have an  FFL who could only accept assault-style rifles from another FFL or send them to other clubs with an FFL and to state the obvious safe storage. Finally, with place control anyone who could legally buy an assault-style rifle could buy  one from an FFL and have it shipped to an FFL in a gun club who would accept it. They do not need to jump through all the hoops needed to own a machine gun.

Much of what we hear about gun control regulations has winners and losers. What follows are some tentative thoughts about who wins and who loses with this concept. 

Winners with place control:

1)School kids living in a world where the assault rifles only are used in gun clubs would not have to worry about them in schools. They would still have to worry about handguns so it may not be a big change 

2)Gun controllers would call it a victory

3)Fighting this idea would bring money into the coffers of the NRA and similar organizations

4)Assault-style rifle owners in the states where the ‘antis’ are trying to make the rifles illegal might be able to work towards legislation allowing people to keep their rifles in clubs instead of not at all


1)TV news people (they would not longer be able to report on assault-style weapons used in school shootings and maybe fewer mass shootings)

2)People who live in the country who shoot assault-style rifles on their property

3)People who like to build or maintain assault-style rifles in their basements

4)Companies and dealers selling assault-style rifles could see sales slip

5)People who hunt wild pigs from helicopters using assault-style rifles

6)People who want an assault-style rifle for home defense

Some Open Issues (out of many possible others):

1)Grandfather clause for existing owners?

2)How get guns to a shooting match?

3)Would people actually obey the law?

4)How many aspiring school shooters would just switch to handguns?

5)How do families handle estates when the owner of a rifle dies?

This is only a first try at exploring the concept. Any constructive thoughts out there?

Note 1:

5 thoughts on “Bruce Pankratz: Using Zoning to Limit Assault-style Rifle Violence.

  1. The U.K. uses a similar approach for certain classes of guns. I think It’s handguns, but I’m not sure.

  2. Bruce, I think it can be a great compromise and, yes, as Brent indicates, pistols in England are kept at gun clubs. If this can be enforced properly, I would consider supporting it as a compromise.

  3. 1. You would have to have some sort of security personnel at ranges to ensure stuff was left at the gun club. Otherwise, anyone who plans on being a mass shooter would certainly not worry about breaking a zoning code or club rule.

    2. Your point about how to get a rifle from one location to another does not have an answer i.e. what if someone belongs to two ranges or if there are shoots such as Three Gun or an analog to the IDPA at the neighboring club? The NYC case currently before the Supreme Court shows that anti gun localities will make it as hard as possible for people to innocently transport a firearm from one location to another if they can do so. NYC and NYS only relaxed that Five Borough Rule when it was obvious the SCOTUS was going to hit them over the head with it and right now, the relaxation is entirely voluntary since lower courts upheld it. NYS could reinstitute it tomorrow.

    3. I’m not sure how this would work in states with preemption clauses that prohibit localities from regulating firearms, such as NM. Localities can zone against discharge of course, which is a safety issue. Ownership is something else.

    So I prefer, if we need to regulate some guns, a graduated license requirement. If I can own an AR, I can own it, period. If I want to bring it home to tinker with it where I have all my tools and stuff and take it to the Federal public land ten miles away from the house to sight it in rather than forty miles to the range where i am a member, its no one else’s business.

  4. ….What other RIGHTS should be Infringed upon depending upon which “Zone” you live in or what level of License you’ve currently “graduated” to?

    • Well, the problem with your implicit argument is that so far, the Federal appellate courts have let stand both state and local AR bans. Unless we either get a circuit split or a direct appeal and SCOTUS reverses this, you and I (and Brett Kavanaugh, in his 2011 dissent in Heller II) might think the 2A should cover ARs but the legal system doesn’t. So in many states, such a system might pass the legal ho ho test.

      My problem with such a system, if extended to whatever the local pols think is a “weapon of war” is that it would fall heavily on anyone with semiauto weapons so as you say, one’s rights would be a moving target as we see with abortion rights. So I think it would be ripe for challenge as well as a pain in the keister. Hence my response: if you are qualified to have one, you can have it, period. No one has successfully challenged gun owner licensing unless the conditions are absurd, e.g., Heller. Use what works.

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