Court Rules Delaware Hunters Can Use Semi-Auto Rifles

There are a lot of misconceptions about firearms floating around out there. Some believe the 5.56 round is akin to a nuclear warhead. Others think the 1911 is still the very best handgun option in the world (OK, kidding…sort of). People believe all sorts of things about guns that aren’t exactly true.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of why some places don’t allow you to hunt with a semi-automatic.

Regardless, at least one state court has decided to rectify that.

The Delaware Superior Court sided with a local gun rights group this fall, ruling that deer hunters in the state can hunt with semi-automatic rifles despite the state environmental authority’s ban.

The court ruled that the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which was sued by the gun-rights group, overstepped its authority by preventing hunters from using those weapons by straying from state law and failing to follow the required procedure that would allow the agency to independently create its own rules in this case.

DNREC has updated this season’s hunting guide online to comply with the ruling after the court in November ordered the agency “to remove the offending language from the 2019/2020 edition, and any subsequent editions.”

When the lawsuit was filed last year, hunters and gun rights advocates said the new rule was a reaction to the stigma attached to semi-automatic rifles and a veiled attempt to discourage the sale of those kinds of guns. Some argued that some hunters prefer semi-automatic rifles because they’re easier for younger, smaller or frailer people to shoot with.

See, the problem here is that people misunderstand semi-automatic.

For some, they think that means we’re talking about hunting with machine guns. We’re not. Semi-auto is only different from other firearms in that the shooter isn’t required to work some kind of action to chamber another round. They’ll still have to pull the trigger a second time.

Semi-autos are ideal for hunting in many a mind because if you miss, you can fire a follow-up shot much quicker. Deer, for example, don’t always bolt at the gunshot for whatever reason. Because of that, semi-auto makes a lot of sense.

While many other hunters prefer other firearms, including a few who like a good single-action, some like semi-auto and that’s perfectly fine…even it seems a little weird.

What Delaware’s law did was allow stigma and bias against a particular action type to muddy the waters. While firearms like the AR-15 are certainly semi-automatic, so too are numerous other firearms that are nothing like those much-vilified weapons. Hell, the semi-auto rifle has been around for almost 150 years.

I’m glad the court made the right determination. The fact that it was needed, however, illustrates just how much outreach the firearms community really needs to do. Too many people are fearful about weapons and certain types of weapons and are willing to take a scorched-earth policy. We really need to address some of those fears and misconceptions so things like this don’t keep happening over and over again.