Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Brian Hoover rescinded his former direction for staff to develop a way for semiautomatic centerfire rifles to be included as lawful sporting arms for big-game hunting Feb. 1, according to a press release from the PA Game Commission.

The direction for allowing semiautomatic rifles had been suggested at the beginning of this year along with multiple other changes. However, Hoover changed his mind after receiving input from the public and due to the large number of other changes.

“While many states allow the use of semiautomatic rifles for hunting big game, and evidence suggests these firearms can actually be safer than their manually operated counterparts, it’s clear we haven’t yet arrived at the time when the majority of Pennsylvania hunters favor they be approved for big-game use,” Hoover said in the press release. “As opinions change, we will consider future changes top provide for the needs of our hunters.”

This is not the first time the game commission has discussed allowing semiautomatic rifles for hunting big game.

State Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said the commission also considered allowing them several years ago.

“Two years ago (semiautomatic weapons) were approved for hunting small game hunting and fur bears,” Lau said. “When that proposal was originally put out there, it included (semiautomatic rifles for) big game. After the preliminary vote in January (2017), the commissioners decided to drop the approval for semiautomatic rifles for big game because surveys suggested that the clear majority of Pennsylvania hunters didn’t want them.”

Lau said the response to this year’s proposal was probably similar, though he did not see all the surveys.

“One category of hunters did not need (semiautomatic rifles),” Lau said. “They are just fine as they are. Another group had safety concerns with the idea of semiautomatic weapons being proposed.”

Lau explained that the game commission does not share concerns about safety.

“In 2017, we checked with every state that allows semiautomatic weapons for big game hunting … and no state cites any sort of safety related issues with the use of semiautomatic rifles, whether that state recently expanded to include semiautomatic rifles in big game hunting or has long allowed it,” Lau said.

However, some people are afraid that the larger hunter density in Pennsylvania might increase the danger of semiautomatic rifles compared with other states. Lau explained this explains the discrepancy between opinions in semiautomatic rifle usage for small game versus large.

“Most of (Pennsylvania’s) hunters are deer hunters,” he said. “We estimate about 700,000 of our 900,000 hunters are deer hunters. So that cuts to those concerns about safety, hunter density… and there are a lot who are uncomfortable with the idea of semiautomatic rifles.”

However, Lau also explained semiautomatic rifles may offer hunters more concentration since they do not have to take their eyes off the target to reload bullets.

Lau said even though the game commission rescinded the proposal this year, it may be brought back up in years to come.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it is brought back up,” he said. “It’s hard to say. … It wouldn’t be next year, if I had to guess. I’d allow some time to say the least.”

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