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Sports

Push being made for semiautomatic hunting

Bob Frye
| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

Tom Spithaler grew up in Evans City in Butler County, hunted around home before joining the military and still has family here. So he knows a little bit about Pennsylvania's hunting regulations.

He just doesn't understand the thinking behind them.

Most specifically, he can't understand why the Pennsylvania Game Commission won't legalize semi-automatic rifles for hunting, something that would open the door to the use of AR-15 style rifles here.

More than 30 states already allow semiautomatics, including AR-15s, he said.

Now, Spithaler admits that, if the law were changed, he — or more specifically, the company he works for — could benefit. He's sales and marketing director of Olympic Arms Inc., which manufactures a line of AR-15s aimed specifically at hunters.

But he says that's not what's been driving him lately — to contact Game Commission officials and, more recently, state lawmakers, to spread the word about AR-15s.

"If nothing else, what we're pushing for is education," he said. "This isn't just about the AR-15. I'm trying to get information to these people and to the general public so that when this discussion comes up, they can make educated, rational decisions."

This is not the first time the issue has come up. Several lawmakers cosponsored a bill last year would have legalized semiautomatic rifles for groundhog hunting. It never got out of committee, however.

Sportsmen also last year started an online petition pushing for their legalization; you can still see it at www.ipetitions.com . It collected about 470 names.

But the push for semiautos in general and AR-15s in particular has never gotten too far, at least in comparison to an issue like Sunday hunting.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, the state's largest sportsmen's group, has not spent much time on it, said president Ted Onufrak.

"No one recalls ever taking a position on something like that. There may have been some discussion about it over the years, but never any motion/resolution to try and get it approved," he said.

Two Game Commissioners say it's never been put on their radar, either.

Commissioner Bob Schlemmer of Export said that while he gets a lot of emails and calls from sportsmen, "I have not heard that one."

"I can't even comment on it because that's a new one to me," he said.

Commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle said he's aware of a lot of marketing of AR-15 rifles for predator hunting nationally. But he's not heard a clamoring for the rifles from sportsmen in Pennsylvania, either.

"I think what we have (legal) is adequate to meet our definition of fair chase. And I think our sportsmen have plenty of options and they seem satisfied," he said.

Spithaler, though, said he thinks too many people just automatically look at AR-15-style rifles and see them as "evil black guns." That's not the case, he said. They are today manufactured and marketed by a host of companies — including large, traditional brands like Remington, Ruger and Smith & Wesson - in a variety of styles and calibers, some specifically for sporting use.

That's one reason he believes the cry for legalizing AR-15s is only going to get louder. Another is that they are this generation's firearm of choice.

All those who have served in the military have used the AR-15 platform, he said. And when they get out of the service and want to head for the woods, "what better tool is there for them to take than the one they know best?"

Spithaler said he's willing to travel from his home near Olympia in Washington, with a collection of AR-15s, so that lawmakers and Game Commissioners can fire them and learn what they're like.

Whether he'll get any takers on his offer remains to be seen. But he's hoping to educate people where he can, he said.

"I think people fight against this just because they haven't taken the time to learn and realize what this firearm is," he said.

Additional Information:

More information

If you're interested in learning more about AR-15-style rifles and their applications for hunting, you can visit www.ar15hunter.com . It's a site like-minded sportsmen have set up to educate people about AR-style firearms.

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