DNR proposes new gun range rules

Posted at 6:58 PM, Mar 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-21 19:58:05-04
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Liquor, automatic weapons and exploding targets would be forbidden at Department of Natural Resources shooting ranges under a new package of regulations that has gun lovers raising their eyebrows.
The DNR owns eight formal ranges around Wisconsin and operates about half of them; local clubs operate the others in partnership with the agency. No uniform rules apply, though the agency has been working since 2013 to develop some, said Keith Warnke, the DNR's shooting sports coordinator.
DNR officials plan to present a wide-ranging package of regulations to their board next month that would prohibit the possession and consumption of alcohol on the ranges as well as prohibit shooters from using fully automatic weapons and tracer ammunition. Incendiary, exploding and breakable targets would be banned, although clay trap targets would be allowed. Shooters would have to unload their weapons when they're off the firing line.
Warnke said the rules were spurred by a desire for consistency rather than any specific problems. Most of the regulations mirror rules at private ranges and gun clubs, he said.
"There's no supervision at most of these DNR-owned ranges," Warnke said. "We wanted to have a few basic safety rules to ensure that everyone using the range is as safe as can be."
Gun advocates have given the rules a lukewarm reception, especially the drinking prohibition and the unloading mandate.
Jeff Nass is the executive director of Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators, the National Rifle Association's state chapter. He said the DNR's rules reflect private club regulations and generally should help keep ranges safer.
He said he doesn't like banning automatic weapons, although he acknowledged that such weapons are so expensive few people own them. The bigger issue is the drinking ban, he said: Would someone who comes to the range with alcohol in their car be violating the regulations? People already can't legally fire a gun if they're drunk, he said, so there's no need to impose a broad ban on possession and consumption.
"I'm not aware of another constitutional right you lose when you have a beer," he said.
Nik Clark, chairman and president of gun rights group Wisconsin Carry, Inc., believes the alcohol ban would be tantamount to discrimination. People can drive with alcohol in their systems as long as they're not intoxicated, he said, so shooters should be allowed to drink as long as they maintain control of themselves.
"Wisconsin's a drinking state and all of a sudden when guns are around we can't have alcohol?" he said.
Warnke noted that ranges across Wisconsin typically ban alcohol.
Clark agreed that banning incendiary targets and targets that shatter should make the ranges safer and reduce litter. But he questioned whether the rule on keeping guns unloaded when off the firing line can legally apply to concealed carry permit holders. People might need to protect themselves from "lunatics" who might go on a shooting spree at the range or wild animals such as coyotes, he argued.
"People should be able to have their self-defense firearm on them and loaded whenever they want and wherever they want," he said.
Warnke couldn't speak on how the unloading requirement would affect concealed carry permit holders legally, and DNR spokesman George Althoff didn't immediately respond to an email asking him to address the question.
It's unclear how much of a fight the advocacy groups might put up ahead of the April 13 board meeting. Nass said he didn't anticipate his group would offer much pushback. Clark said his organization is focused on its lawsuit challenging a Madison rule banning concealed weapons on city buses and hasn't designated any resources toward the range rules.