Deer hunters sue Delaware over ban on semi-automatic rifles

The new state hunting guide bans semi-automatic rifles, but it oversteps a 2018 law that codified restrictions, according to a lawsuit.

A lawsuit says Delaware’s new hunting guide bans semi-automatic weapons from deer hunting, when the law does not. (State of Delaware)

A lawsuit says Delaware’s new hunting guide bans semi-automatic weapons from deer hunting, when the law does not. (State of Delaware)

Delaware’s annual hunting guide contained a surprise this year for deer hunters.

The rules limited hunters to single shot rifles, contrary to a 2018 law that does not have such restrictions.

In response, two hunting groups and two of their members are suing the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) over the regulation. The lawsuit contends that the rules banning semi-automatic rifles go beyond the law’s restrictions.

Sussex County plaintiff William Bell is a member of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association and the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, both of which are suing.

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He says deer hunters have long used semi-automatic rifles to thin the herd.

“I’ve used semi-automatic firearms for bird hunting I don’t see any difference, to be honest with you,’’ Bell told WHYY Monday.

“Management of the deer herd is important and doing it safely is important. I think that the legislators who wrote the bill to begin with had that in mind. And I think they did they did an excellent job. My contention is that DNREC has not interpreted the law as it was written.”

A DNREC spokesman would not comment, referring WHYY to the hunting guide itself.

The law and the guide restrict rifles to a maximum of “three cartridges in the chamber and magazine combined.” But unlike the law, the guide limits rifles to those which are “manually operated, consisting of lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot, and revolver rifles.’’

None of those are semi-automatic weapons, in which a cartridge is fired each time the trigger is pulled.

Francis Pileggi, the plaintiffs’ attorney, cautioned the public not to confuse semi-automatic weapons with automatic ones, in which bullets are fired continuously with one pull of the trigger.

“Semi-automatic firearms for hunting have been used for many years and the current legislation confirms that they are not prohibited,” Pileggi told WHYY.

“What the hunting guide does is tries to prohibit them, when DNREC was not able to get the legislature to agree with them or prohibit them by statute. So that’s the crux of the matter.”

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