The Pennsylvania Game Commission is expected to vote on a measure to allow semi-automatic rifles to be used in several hunting seasons, including deer and bear, later this month, and the prospect has some local gun shop owners bracing for brisk sales.
The move comes two months after Gov. Tom Wolf signed into a law a bill that removes the prohibition against the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting. The legislation also grants the PGC the authority to implement the use of semi-automatic rifles for seasons and species as it sees fit.
According to the agenda for the Jan. 31 quarterly meeting, the PGC board will vote on allowing semi-automatic rifles for small game (.22-caliber), woodchucks, fall turkey, coyotes, foxes, elk, bear and deer. The measure would limit such rifles to a magazine capacity of five rounds, and if the measure passes, it would need final approval at the April meeting.
A semi-automatic rifle is defined as a firearm capable of discharging a single projectile with each squeeze of the trigger.
When the Game Commission allowed the use of crossbows in 2009, it resulted in an increase in sales at hunting shops. Joe Lasecki, owner of Nimrod Haven Sporting Goods in Hanover Township, said a similar spike in business could occur if semi-automatic rifles became legal for hunting.
“It has already started,” Lasecki said. “I’ve already had people come in looking to buy them.”
Lasecki carries AR-style rifles and said he would add semi-automatic rifles geared to hunting — such as those in the 30-06 and .270 calibers, to his stock.
Still, Lasecki questioned if allowing such rifles for hunting is a wise move from a safety standpoint.
“I agree with allowing smaller calibers for fox, coyote and squirrels. But a semi-automatic 30-06? I don’t think it’s wise to go there,” he said.
Lasecki said he has already spoken to one landowner who won’t allow hunters to use semi-automatic rifles on his property. Lasecki will also take the time to educate anyone interested in buying one about the safety aspects involved with being able to shoot at a faster rate than traditional bolt- and lever-action rifles.
And even though the move to allow semi-automatic rifles may be good for business, Lasecki still isn’t sold on the idea.
“Guys are going to want them and you’re in business, so even though you may not agree with it, you stock them,” he said.
“From a retail standpoint, it’s opening up another avenue to sell. But is money more important than safety?”
Paul Scavone, owner of J S Sporting Goods in Wilkes-Barre Township, said he expects sales of semi-automatics to increase only slightly because a lot of people already own them.
Like Lasecki, Scavone said he will add more hunting-style, semi-automatic rifles to his stock if the PGC approves the measure later this month.
“It seems like most guys are in favor of it for varmint hunting and small game, and there’s some apprehension with using them for deer because of safety,” Scavone said. “But when you think about it, a five-round capacity isn’t much of a difference. A lot of guys can use a pump or lever action just as fast.”
Dave Corl, who owns Shooters Rendezvous Ltd. in Hollenback Township, agreed that semi-automatic rifle sales would be limited because many people already have them, but he does expect interest to pick up in the .22-caliber models used for squirrels and small game.
Corl also questioned if the appeal of a semi-automatic would be enough to make hunters give up their bolt-, lever- and pump-action rifles that they’ve used for years to hunt deer.
“I’m not sure they’re going to want to spend the extra money when what they’re using now is just fine,” Corl said. “A semi-automatic is an advantage for follow-up shots, but how often do you need that?”
Corl added there are concerns about safety with semi-automatics, but those issues pertain to all firearms.
“For hunting in Pennsylvania where there are a lot of houses in rural areas, you always have to be aware of your target and what’s behind it,” he said. “You can use a bolt, lever, pump or semi-auto. You’re still accountable for what’s beyond your target.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky.