Court Over Rules Ban on Using Semi-Automatic Rifle for Hunting

A judge sided with hunters when he overturned a ban on using semi-automatic rifles for hunting. The court ruled that the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) overstepped its authority when it banned the use of certain guns.

According to Delaware Online, the department went well beyond the legislation defining what types of guns could be used for hunting, and also that they did not follow proper procedures when implementing the rule.

The rule stemmed from legislation sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton. His goal with the bill was to define what caliber was legal to hunt with not what type of gun could be used, but the DNREC took it upon themselves to interrupt the law in a way it was never intended to be interpreted.

In 2019, the DNREC issued a hunting guide that left out semi-automatic rifles among the guns that deer hunters can now use as a result of the bill. The guide also said deer hunters can’t use a rifle of a certain caliber if a handgun of that caliber doesn’t exist.

The DNREC was promptly sued by Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association (DSSA). They argued that neither the semi-automatic ban nor pistol in existence rule was part of the bill and the DNREC rules will cause confusion among hunters and law enforcement.

The gun group believes that the ban was put in place because of the stigma around so-called “assault rifles” and that the DNREC was implementing its own partisan agenda when they implemented the rule.

“You have to follow the statute,” said Jeff Hague, president of the DSSA, which is the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association. “Just because you don’t agree with the statute, you don’t have the right to go in and write your own language and interpret it the way you want absent direction from the General Assembly.”

The court also ruled that even though the DNREC has the authority to implement its own rules, they have to follow certain procedures to do so and they failed to follow those procedures when putting the rules in place.

The DNREC has stated they are disappointed with the ruling and are weighing their options as to how to proceed. In the meantime, they have changed the wording on their hunting regulations website to reflect the court ruling.