Gun rights advocates, sportsmen condemn DNREC's decision to prohibit semi-automatic rifles for deer hunting

Gun rights advocates and sportsmen have united across the state condemning the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) over its decision to prohibit hunters from using semi-automatic rifles to hunt deer. 

On September 20, DNREC issued new guidance dictating the types of firearms hunters can use during deer season, which prohibited the use of semi-automatic rifles. 

"Only manually-operated rifles may be used, consisting of lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot and revolver rifles," according to the DNREC's Division of Fish & Wildlife.

DNREC issued the guidance after Governor Carney signed House Bill 156 into law last month, allowing deer hunters the use of pistol caliber rifles, a type of chambered rifle designed for rounds that can be used in certain pistols.

On Monday, the Delaware Sportsmen's Caucus sent a letter to DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin expressing concerns over the measure, which they called very disturbing and said is not based in the language of the bill they sponsored or any regulation. 

State Senator Brian Pettyjohn, a co-chair on the caucus, said DNREC's guidance prohibiting the use of semi-automatic rifles for deer hunting was issued without going through the proper channels, including public input.

"In the law it says nothing about the types of firearms. In fact, the only area of Delaware law that we actually look at for hunting purposes, looking at the firearm, are muzzle loaders," Sen. Pettyjohn said. "What their guidance is showing is not authorized by either the law that was passed or the regulations that are currently in place."

DNREC failed to go through a number of the public and transparent processes before issuing the guidance, according to Sen. Pettyjohn who signed the letter along with the caucus' three other co-chairs: State Senator Ennis and State Representatives Carson and Spiegelman.

"Their guidance was issued without going through the Administrative Procedures Act and without going through any of the advisory councils. It was just guidance that was made and put out there without any public input and without going through any of the public and transparent processes that we already have in place," Sen. Pettyjohn said. "We have a concern about that, and we have a concern about the legality of what they're doing."

Sen. Pettyjohn said there were hunters who went out and purchased semi-automatic rifles based on the law that was passed last month, but now under DNREC's guidance they could be cited if they use such rifles to hunt with during deer season.

"Based on the law that was passed and signed by the Governor, there were hunters that went out and purchased some of these semi-automatic rifles for deer hunting and now if they're out there hunting with those and they're stopped by fish and wildlife enforcement, then they could be cited for losing a firearm that legally it does not prohibit them from using," Sen. Pettyjohn said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Delaware Sportsmen's Caucus had not heard back from DNREC addressing their concerns raised in the letter addressed to Secretary Garvin.

Delaware 105.9's Rob Petree reached to DNREC Spokesman Michael Globetti who provided a response that said "the law does not expressly provide for the use of semi-automatic pistol caliber rifles. The law was intended for a specific purpose, to allow for the use of pistol caliber rifles during shotgun deer seasons."

"The Department has interpreted the law to follow the intent of the legislation, to provide a limited additional tool to help with deer management," DNREC said. "If the General Assembly wants to add semi-automatic rifles to the list of permissible weapons, they would need to take action that specifically legislates that intent."

Delaware Gun Rights, a statewide gun rights advocacy group comprised of pro-second amendment lobbyists, has been very vocal in recent days condemning DNREC's decision.

Mitch Denham, president of Delaware Gun Rights, said he and his members are currently contacting their representation and have reached out to the Governor's Office and DNREC expressing concerns over the newly issued guidance.

"Delaware Gun Rights would like them to act like every other agency and enforce the law. Follow the law the way it's written," Denham said. "We are contacting and communicating with our representation as well as attempting to try to talk to the Governor and DNREC about it."

Certain straight-wall, pistol-caliber rifles can be used south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal for deer hunting on private and public lands where deer hunting is allowed, according to DNREC. Those rifles can only be used in place of a shotgun for the November and January shotgun deer seasons and in place of a handgun for the January handgun deer season.

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