Conservation officials in Harrisburg on Tuesday voted unanimously to tentatively end the Commonwealth’s ban on the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting.
Pennsylvania will be the last state in the country to establish hunting seasons during which autoloading rifles can be used if the rules passed by the eight-member Board of Game Commissioners are given final approval in March.
In a statement from the Board, Commissioner James Daley said most public commenters offered no opposition to the idea of using semi-auto rifles for small game and furbearers while for big game such as deer and elk, the comments were about evenly split.
The PGC’s proposed new rules allow the use of semi-auto rifles for both small and large game on every species for which there is currently a season — provided the total ammunition capacity of the rifle does not exceed six (5+1) rounds. Full-metal-jacketed ammunition would continue to be prohibited for deer, bear and elk hunting.
Before the vote, the Game Commission, which had in the past advocated semi-auto rifle use for small game only, conducted a review of other states — including Pennsylvania’s neighbors — and found that the use of such firearms to harvest game has proven safe in those areas.
“There have been concerns about safety issues with semi-automatic weapons for big game,” said Commissioner Timothy Layton as reported by the (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader. “We found no correlation between the way a weapon is loaded and hunting accidents.”
However, not everyone is happy with the decision. A post on the PGC’s social media page about the meeting late Tuesday drew more than 400 comments, many of them negative.
“Maybe you could approve hand grenades, tanks, rocket launchers etc…we are hunting deer, bear, and small game. Do we really need more weapons approved?” read one Facebook comment which drew over 150 likes.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the firearms industry, applauded the move by the commissioners, with Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of government affairs for the organization telling Guns.com, “We welcome this change.”
Last November, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed legislation eliminating the Commonwealth’s historic prohibition against the use of air guns and semi-automatic rifles for hunting after it passed the Senate and House in veto-proof margins, leaving the regulation of such guns to the PGC.
The board’s next quarterly meeting is scheduled to be held March 27 and 28, where the new rules will be voted on a final time.