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Delaware Sportsman Assoc. sues state over ban on some semi-auto hunting rifles

Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Sportsmen's Association (DSSA) is suing Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) alleging the state agency violated Delaware's constitution by banning some semi-automatic rifles for the use of hunting. 

The suit says language in DNREC’s 2019-2020 hunting guide is inconsistent with a Delaware law enacted in 2018. The law (HB 156) adds restrictions to handgun calibers for hunting but allows for pistol caliber rifle hunting for deer. 

The lawsuit argues DNREC’s latest hunting guide includes restrictions on straight-walled pistol caliber rifle hunting that do not appear in the text of the law—specifically excluding semi-automatic rifles from the list of allowable rifles. 

“So by omission they banned semi-automatic rifles in those permissible calibers, which in our opinion—and the Sportsmen’s Caucus from the General Assembly—was not what the law said,” said DSSA President Jeff Hague. “The law was silent on what type of rifle could be used.”  

The Sportsmen’s Caucus includes Delaware Sens. Bruce Ennis (D-14) and Brian Pettyjohn (R-19) and Reps. Bill Carson (D-28) and Jeffrey Spiegelman (R-11).

In a letter addressed to DNREC Secretary Sean Garvin, the caucus calls DNREC’s issuing guidance “very disturbing” and not based on the language in HB 156.

DNREC said in an email it would not comment on pending litigation, but sent the language from its hunter’s guide listing lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot, and revolver rifles as the only allowable straight-walled pistol caliber rifles.

Hague says he wonders whether the exclusion of semi-auto rifles on that list is in any way associated with a proposed ban on assault rifles in Delaware. 

“Delaware has never permitted the possession or ownership—even if federal law allows it, which it does—the ownership of a fully automatic anything,” said Hague. “But people don’t understand that a semi-automatic rifle is not the same as an assault rifle but yet we have these bans introduced. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it or not.”  

The state recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit saying DSSA does not have standing to file suit.

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