Delaware Superior Court Overrules State Ban, Allows Hunters to Use Semi-Automatic Rifles

by Jennifer Shea

The Delaware Superior Court struck down a ban on hunting deer with semi-automatic rifles last month, finding that the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control had overstepped its bounds and failed to follow proper procedures.

Delaware Court Strikes Down Ban

The Nov. 18 ruling dealt a setback to the DNREC and represented a victory for the local gun-rights group that had sued it, the Delaware News Journal reported. The ruling said the department did not have the authority to ban hunters from using those guns. And it said the department had not followed the required procedure to make its own rules here.

“DNREC is disappointed by the decision and is evaluating its options,” a department spokesperson told the News Journal.

The Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, which is the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, filed the lawsuit in November 2019 against the DNREC and its secretary.

They filed it after a 2018 change in the law that permitted certain weapons for deer hunting. But the DNREC’s hunting guide omitted semi-automatic rifles from the list of guns that deer hunters can use. The DSSA argued that the DNREC’s rules cause confusion for hunters and for law enforcement.

“You have to follow the statute,” Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware gun rights group, told the News Journal. “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.”

Court Rules On Statutory Violations

State officials, such as DNREC brass, are required to allow public input when making regulation changes. The court found that the DNREC didn’t do that in making its rule against semi-automatic rifles in hunting.

However, the court didn’t rule on the DSSA’s argument that the DNREC’s hunting rules were unconstitutional. It said courts need to address statutory violations before they handle constitutional questions.