- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Proponents of legislation to allow hunters to use semi-automatic rifles urged lawmakers Monday to end the nation’s only ban on the practice, but the director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission warned that any such change would be limited in scope, at least initially.

The House Game and Fisheries Committee received a mixed reaction to a pair of bills that were the focus of the hearing, including testimony by supporters who said the increasingly popular weapons are easier and safer to use than conventional hunting rifles.

“It is long past due for Pennsylvania to join the community of states that recognize freedom of choice on behalf of the hunting community and cast off the mindset of bureaucratic prohibition, and prejudice, of an era long gone,” said Kim Stolfer, speaking for the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and the Pennsylvania Sportsmen’s Association.

One bill would legalize the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting and allow the game commission to sort out the details.

“I think we can be trusted with semi-automatic weapons in the woods,” said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, the bill’s sponsor.

Semi-automatic rifles automatically reload once the trigger is pulled. Each successive shot requires an additional trigger pull.

The game commission, anticipating legislative action on the bills, recently voted to endorse the use of semi-automatics so long as it has the authority to regulate such factors as the species and hunting season dates.

If semi-automatics are legalized for hunting, game commission director Matt Hough said the group would likely “start out conservatively” by limiting the hunting to coyotes, foxes and groundhogs, as the bill sponsored by Rep. Curtis Sonney, R-Erie, would do.

Hough warned lawmakers not to expect any immediate expansion of that right to the hunting of deer, bear and other game. The game commissioners are concerned about the perception of hunters clad in camouflage, carrying military-style weapons.

Some landowners already have threatened to post their land if the law is changed, he said.

The game commissioners “are very traditional individuals and hunting in Pennsylvania is a very traditional sport,” Hough said.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, which claims 71,000 members in about 200 clubs, endorsed Sonney’s bill earlier this year, but Saccone’s bill failed to win majority support.

“Some of our members think that perhaps an incremental approach might be better,” said John Kline, the federation’s director of government affairs.

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