View Full Version : When does a shotgun become a rifle (not a shotgun)?

March 26, 2007, 04:41 PM
I.e. Would a rifled-barrel "shotgun" (actually by definition a rifle), chambered in 12 ga, be OK (legal) as long as it was 16", not 18", since it's not a smoothbore (remember, handguns can shoot shotshells as long as they are not smoothbore). If the answer is no, then would it make a difference if shot from a brass-shelled rifle rounds which happened to be roughly .729, instead of plastic shotshells? Where do you draw the line? Can you tell that I want a 16" 12 gauge rifled gun?

I.e. How does federal law define "shotgun" - in terms of whether it WILL shoot shot (no, that can't be, since ALL guns WILL shoot shot if you put a shot-type round in them), or whether the gun is rifled or not? (if so, this would not be a shotgun), or whether it's principle mission is to shoot rifled bullets or shotshells? (if so, then this one would not be a shotgun), or is it defined in terms of "gauge" - 12 or 20 ga or 28 ga, etc.? And does the definition use "plastic-hulled cartridge...", or some similar language? If so, then I'll make up 12 ga brass cases for it.

March 26, 2007, 06:49 PM
" Would a rifled-barrel "shotgun" (actually by definition a rifle), chambered in 12 ga, be OK (legal) as long as it was 16", not 18", since it's not a smoothbore"

The Federal government says a shotgun is a shotgun.
What type of cartridge cases you use doesn't matter.
If it has a smooth bore and shoots shot...It's a shotgun.

In other words, unless you register it as an NFA weapon and pay a $200 tax, there's no way to get a 16" barreled shotgun.

If you pay the tax and register it, you can have ANY length barrel you want, as long as where you live also allows it.
Many states flatly prohibit short barreled shotguns.

March 26, 2007, 08:40 PM
"a real 12 GA rifle is a destructve device, not a rifle. (greater than 50 cal )"

I don't like were this is going:(

March 26, 2007, 08:52 PM
OK, forget about the type of case. Start at the beginning:

The Federal government says a shotgun is a shotgun.

Great. I'm not using a shotgun. I'm using a rifle. A rifled bbl= rifle. Define "shotgun"! How do YOU define shotgun? How does the fedgov define shotgun? I'm just asking. :)

if it is a shotgun when you bought it, it is a shotgun

It wasn't a shotgun when I bought this (hypothetical) 12 guage RIFLE. Never has been; never will be, a shotgun - it came from the factory with a rifled barrel. It is, therefore, unquestionably, a rifle, which is mutually exclusive of it being a shotgun.

Remember, a RIFLE, by definition, has a rifled barrel and is designed to shoot a single projectile (just exactly as the 12 guage slug guns are). A SHOTGUN, by definition, has a SMOOTH bore. The question is still unanswered.

March 26, 2007, 08:59 PM
If it shoots a shotgun shell, it's a shotgun. A slug is still a shotgun shell. It doesn't matter your reasoning the law says a shotgun must have an 18 inch bbl so it must have an 18 inch bbl. Even if your reasining held up you would still be in possesion of a destructive device (over .50 cal) so no matter how you look at it, it's NFA.

If you put a smooth bore on a rifle would it then be a shotgun? No, it's still a rifle.

March 26, 2007, 10:18 PM
You are still shooting a shotgun shell, regardless and that is the way the Gooberment sees it. Even the best of sabots will not shoot as far as a rifle, so it is still considered a short range gun. Hey, don't fight it, you might convince some Polytician that rifled barrels should be outlawed. We have enough problems hanging on to what we have without planting seeds with the anti's.

March 27, 2007, 12:33 AM
When does a shotgun become a rifle (not a shotgun)?

It doesn't. Under federal law. pg 76, section D and section F. (pg 3 in the PDF)



This is my "shotgun" - even though it runs a fully rifled, ported barrel w/cantilever scope and shoots, 73CAL slugs.

You see in my "Great State of Kal-if-ornia" - BMG 50CAL rifles are illegal, but 73CAL fully rifled shotguns are perfectly fine. :p


March 27, 2007, 10:07 AM
If you put a smooth bore on a rifle would it then be a shotgun? No, it's still a rifle.

Actually it would have to have a 18 inch barrel as it is a shotgun if there are shot shell made in that caliber.

I remember a story where a gunshop got busted for having a .22 bolt action with a smooth bore and a 16 inch barrel. The ATF had decided that it was a shotgun and that the barrel needed to be 18 to be legal.

March 27, 2007, 02:57 PM
Exactly. It would become a shotgun if a smoothbore was put on it. The reverse is also probably true (at least, we don't know, without more inquiry).

If it shoots a shotgun shell, it's a shotgun.

OK, define shotgun shell.

A slug is still a shotgun shell

Why? How do you figure? Would it make any difference if the case was a different material? Yes, or no?

Still talking in circles, guys - no answers yet.

mcubed is on the right track:

The term 'shotgun' means any weapon


designed or redesigned, made or remade,
and intended to be fired from the shoulder,


and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive


in a fixed shotgun shell

Maybe not check - maybe; maybe not; depends upon how "shotgun shell" is in turn defined. But probably Yes, check.

to fire through a smooth bore

Definitely, definitely, definitely NOT check - not on the guns that are slug guns - they were DESIGNED to shoot through a rifled bore, not a smooth bore; hence the attached rifled bore that came with the gun.

either a number of projectiles, OR a single projectile

Yes, check, the second phrase after the OR is true; therefore the truth value of the whole clause is True. Irrelevant at this point though, of course, due to the truth value of the smooth bore element being false

with each pull of the trigger,


And shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire a fixed shotgun shell.

Ahhhhh, so there you have it. That last phrase is the key that makes the vast majority of slug guns "shotguns" subject to the 18" bbl, since they can be READILY RESTORED back to a smoothbore by a simple barrel swap. So you guys are right, definitely (I just wanted to know for sure, and also WHY you were right). However, it would be a simple matter, if one chose to, to weld the rifled barrel onto the receiver permanently, rendering that clause inapplicable, and thus making it into a true rifle. *I* wouldn't choose to be the test case, but that's how a judge would rule on the matter, if you took it to pre-trial motions or trial & appeal.

OK, questioned answered; interesting. :)

P.S. The way I read that, though, it would only be legal if the original receiver was meant for/sold as a slug gun, AND welded permanently. BOTH. Can't be a smoothbore originally that you weld a rifled barrel to.... Because if it was EITHER designed OR redesigned as a smoothbore, then you're no bueno. But if it was neither designed NOR redesigned as a smoothbore, and there's no ready adaptation back to smooth bore (welded bbl), then it would appear that you're golden. Unless the gov't takes the position that a welded bbl is easily (readily) converted back.

Thanks, mcubed! Hey what kind of ballistics and range and use and bullet types and etc., do you do/use on/with/for, for that killer .73 caliber destructive device? :)

March 28, 2007, 12:44 AM
Thanks, mcubed! Hey what kind of ballistics and range and use and bullet types and etc., do you do/use on/with/for, for that killer .73 caliber destructive device? :)

Sorry, you mean my 73CAL non-destructive device? :p

I have 3 barrels for this shotgun.

CONFIG#1: 18.5" cylinder bore (bead sight) smooth bore - stays in this configuration when at home, #00 buck (9 pellet).

Tried Remington both normal and low recoil, Wolf, and a few others, settled on Estate (all types of #00 buck produced the same size pattern for me at 7yards (about 5"), but when I moved to 10yards only Estate kept the same size pattern, all the rest were all over the place. It's a common story with people using smooth bore barrels (the barrel tends to like 1 brand of ammo better - however it's different on every barrel on every gun) - indoor range near my house is a great place to pattern a shotgun. (although range fees add up on a per hour basis).

I have also done some shooting with 1oz slugs out of the smooth bore, Wolf and Brenneke. Both slugs have about the same accuracy, which is about 4.5" to 5" groups out to about 25 yards. (course that was the max distance on the indoor range I was playing around at).

CONFIG#2: 28" Vent Ribbed (bead sight) - improved choke - clay pigeon shooting, #6 bird. Only did this one time, camping up in the Mt Shasta area, we had a clay pigeon launcher, it was fun, but haven't done it around home at all yet.

CONFIG#3: (shown above) 24" Ported - fully rifled (scoped) - 1oz 2 3/4" slugs, or 600grain 3" magnum slugs. I use for target shooting. I have been known to "not" hit the X on the target but instead hit within 1/2" around it, until the center falls out at 50yards (local outdoor range has 50 yard targets) on a regular basis. Using either Wolf or Brenneke KO - 1oz rifled slugs. I also use Brenneke 600grain 3" Black Magic Magnums for special occasions (these are FUN! see below) :)

Well I guess this is going to be a book by the time I'm done... but here goes...

Best story was, a bunch of us, went up camping up by Mt Shasta last year (large ~80acre private land), and the place it setup as "target central". Old propane tanks hanging from trees, solid metal plates in old garden furniture hanging by wires, old 4' tall fire extinguisher, Evian water bottles filled with water hanging on strings, dead 2' diameter tree trunks, etc...

This trip was right after I finished all my purchases; bought gun, bought accessories - finally finished getting everything on a Thursday, left for the weekend on Friday... I had never fired the gun.

Once there I assembled the beast (shown above), and proceeded to have my buddies laugh at my "shotgun" with a bi-pod.

I looked my AR15 buddy in the eye and said, what do you want me to aim for?

He laughs and points across the river up the hill. It took several seconds for me to even figure out what he was pointing at... The scope a 3-9X32 (came with the slug barrel - don't like it planning on upgrading) at 9X showed the item to be a rusted out propane tank hanging from a tree via rope.

I took aim, held my breath... and shot... PING... My buddy looks at me (my first shot nailed it), he looks back across the river at the propane tank now slightly swinging back and forth... On the 5 round mag, I ended up hitting it 4 times. Not bad for the first 5 rounds I ever shot! No one in the group knew the exact distance, but at 9X it wasn't very big in the scope. My estimate was about 110 yards.

I was shooting 1oz Wolf 2 3/4" rifled slugs - out of the fully rifled barrel.

Ok, waiting to be flammed now!
1. What?!?!!? that M3 guy isn't shooting SABOTs from a rifled barrel?!?!? ;) No.
2. And - whats this - M3 is using rifled slugs (designed for a smooth bore) from a rifled barrel - doesn't that lead foul the barrel something fierce! ;) No.

Anyway, as the trip went on... I ended up getting most of my buddies a bit agitated at me... (I kept knocking over the targets with 1 shot, or the metal plate was no longer flat it looked like someone folder a piece of paper in half - we had to bang it flat again with a sledgehammer). So they finally revealed the ultimate target...

They had a 50 gallon barrel, at the end of a bend in the river, before it turned around a corner... on the 50 gallon barrel, they had propped up a 14" car rim, and braced it with river rocks from behind. The game was on... Who can "knock" the wheel off the barrel.

I blew through 30+ rounds of 1oz slugs Wolf and Breneke KO... even with help of my buddies sighting for me... My shots were dropping before even getting within range of the barrel. I was aiming so high on the scope to try and compensate for drop, that I couldn't even see the target in my scope (I was that far above the target - trying to get the ballistic arc). In the meantime, my AR15 and Keltec SU16 buddies were making lots of holes in the wheel but not making any headway of knocking it over..

I got frustrated... I grabbed the boxes of Brenneke Black Magic 600grain - 3" magnum rounds.

I get setup, all my buddies except 1 are looking at the barrel, he's looking at me, cuz he wants to see what a 150lb guy does when shooting a 3" magnum round... :)

I take aim... I double check my stance... I tripple check... I make really sure I'm right where the scope is just above the target... I fire...

BAM... the scope hits me in the center of the forehead.

One of my buddies who was sighting through binoculars - starts yelling - everyone else is dead silent... he looks back and sees me with my hand on my forehead applying direct pressure, as my head was starting to bleed.

Moral to story... when using magnum rounds... DO NOT forget how close to the scope you are (because the eye relief on my scope sucks rocks and I had to get close to sight it - but previously I had been backing off - before shooting).

The other moral to the story, the buddy with the binoculars was yelling, because that 1 single 600 grain - 3" magnum slug - nailed the 14" wheel just off to 1 side, spun the wheel and it fell off the 50 gallon barrel. (after about 5 mins, the bleeding stopped - yes my scope had a rubber ring - it helped somewhat) - and I've sense added additional rubber to the scope (as noted in the picture)

We then walked to put the wheel back up again... I counted my footsteps - as my feet are very close to 12" in boots... the estimate was ~190 yards.


March 28, 2007, 09:58 AM
Holy cow - I opened a can of worms - great story and info on your shottie there - nice barrel configs; thanks!

March 30, 2007, 11:32 PM
Why look... my "... weapon which may be readily restored to fire a fixed shotgun shell." - is no longer a non-destructive device.


18.5" w/shell carrier is now ready for my shotgun class this weekend. :)


April 1, 2007, 12:54 PM
If it shoots a shotgun shell, it's a shotgun. A slug is still a shotgun shell. It doesn't matter your reasoning the law says a shotgun must have an 18 inch bbl so it must have an 18 inch bbl. Even if your reasining held up you would still be in possesion of a destructive device (over .50 cal) so no matter how you look at it, it's NFA.

I wouldn't point this out so loudly. The gungrabers might make the claim a rifled shotgun should be a destructive device.....

April 1, 2007, 08:13 PM
I wouldn't point this out so loudly. The gungrabers might make the claim a rifled shotgun should be a destructive device.....

Gun grabers will continue their relentless pursuit until anything that shoots is in the hands of "controllable" organizations only. Because according to gun grabers - no violence will ever happen again when the people no longer have a gun.... riiiiiiiight? ;)


April 1, 2007, 08:47 PM
The gun grabbers aren't going to be going after rifled shotguns anytime soon. They are in use by too many sportsmen, and in trying to take them away, they will make a lot of new political enemies. Too many.

That's why gun grabbers often focus on the fringe stuff like .50's and "assault weapons". When they go after those, they can sometimes even get the support of all the Zumbos out there, even.

The other part is that rifled shotguns can only be delclared DD's if they are "non-sporting", and rifled shotguns have a great deal of precedent being used in shotgun-only hunting areas.

April 1, 2007, 08:57 PM
Sorry I kinda just skimmed this thread but my take is, why would you want to risk it for 2 inches? IMHO

My guess is a shotgun is a shotgun and needs to have a 18 inch barrel.

April 17, 2007, 02:06 PM
There are some guns that shoot shotgun shells without being a shotgun... Like the 410 pistols. Magnum Research makes a very nice one...

April 24, 2007, 12:56 PM
A shotgun rifled barrel can be converted back to smooth
by reaming or changing barrels, so it fits the converted to
shot idea. We researched our 12GA long cases and as long
as it is a shotgun caliber on a registered long gun frame,
the only limit is 18" bbl.Barrels can be smooth, any type
rifling, any length over 18". Cases can be paper, plastic, brass, steel, factory made, homemade,any length.
Loads can be shot, slugs, ball, stacked slugs,
saboted bullets,balls, fletchetts, blanks,
etc, but no explosive projectiles.A long case chamber must
be able to hold shorter cases, IE you can't take a 30mm
and neck it down to 12ga and make an excempt 12ga, as
other 12 gauges won't chamber. The reason that rifling
hasn't affected the shotgun definition; is that before
GCA 68 and other rules came into being there were many
Paradox, polygonal rifled, etc shotgun calibers for
about a hundred years before.Nothing new. Ed.

April 24, 2007, 01:14 PM
Caliber. If it is over .50, it is a shotgun.
If it is a smoothbore, it is a shotgun.

April 24, 2007, 01:17 PM
not to steal the thread but I dont understand the gun grabbers going after .50 cal.I have never heard of one used in a murder in the US and would think the cost of the Rifle and ammo would prevent your local gangbanger from even considering it.Basic models cost 1,000 and the ammo isnt cheap.Most of them are like 5 feet in legnth how do you hide that?Am I wrong?

April 24, 2007, 04:37 PM
The fear mongers at VPC want you to think the BMG will be used for everything from long range assassinations to shooting down helicopters and airplanes or blowing up chemical plants.

They refernce such things as insurgents dowing helicopters in combat areas as if that's applicable here in the us... The insurgents have how many weapons and how many rounds of ammo are fired? And every so offten they get lucky and score a hit that brings a chopper down... so what if everyone in a given state who owns a 50 got together they might have a chance at this???

Give me a brake

Do a web search and you will find their BS out there.

Nevermind that there are many other cheaper and more effective ways to carry out any of these actions and far more dramatic ways to attack just about anything using improvised materials esp. if you don't care about your life as we know terrorist types do not.

Frankly I say the politicos who believe this BS ought to go out to a 1km range with a 50 and see if they can hit a sheet of plywood at that range. It might put it all in perspective for them for this much discussed thought that a 50 BMG puts aircraft at risk

April 30, 2007, 11:01 PM
Much ado about nothing, You want to put a 16 inch barrel on your shotgun, do so. You are not listening to the advise given so do what ever you want. In accordance to the ATF a shotgun is a shotgun. These pistols that shoot .410s have rifling, hence it's a pistol that will shoot a shotgun shell. Even Thomson Center had to rifle the barrel on their 45/410 to make it legal. There's a certain police chief who just barely stayed out of jail ( he lost his job )because he had one of the old smooth bore 410 Thomson Centers in the trunk of his car and one of his men turned him in. He was charged with having a short barrel shotgun, no matter that he brought it new that way. A shotgun with a rifled barrel is still a shot gun. A shotgun slug is still a shotgun shell. But you go ahead and cut your rifled shotgun down to 16 inches. But you will have no legal defence when they come to get you. You can argue logic all you want, you will be in violation of federal law. That's it in a nut shell. I can't change the law, you can't change the law but you go ahead and do what ever you deem fit.

April 30, 2007, 11:04 PM
im prety sure that he has reached the point of rifle. I belive with some of his loads he said hes getting 23,000 pounds of energy at the muzzle.

May 1, 2007, 09:46 AM
Much ado about nothing, You want to put a 16 inch barrel on your shotgun, do so. You are not listening to the advise given so do what ever you want.

YOU are not reading the entire thread. It's not nothing. It's called the LAW. And as a lawyer, I'm interested in the law. As a gun owner, I'm doubly interested in gun laws. Of course a .410 handgun must have a rifled barrel or its a shotgun, because that's what the law states. Duh. Tell us something we don't already know. A smoothbore pistol has zero to do with a RIFLE with a rifled barrel & a buttstock. As I stated above, the BATFE regulations clearly state (or perhaps not-so-clearly), when read carefully, that if the gun was not designed nor re-designed to shoot through a smooth bore, AND it is NOT readily adaptable back to a smoothbore, then it is not by definition a shotgun. But the only way to get there is to permanently weld the barrel onto the receiver, which I ain't gonna do. And you must START with a gun that was never DESIGNED to fire through a smoothbore; i.e. a slug gun. Read above - it's all explained in my post above, where I broke it down there for you.

a shotgun is a shotgun.

:rolleyes: As stated above several times, and as is patently obvious from simple logic, that statement is utterly meaningless. Of course a shotgun is a shotgun, and a duck is a duck. What's that got to do with a RIFLE, which is NOT a shotgun? And what does that have to do with the definition of exactly what is a shotgun?

Caliber. If it is over .50, it is a shotgun

No, I don't think so...what is your source for that? That's not what the BATFE regulation says. A .577 T-Rex and a .600 nitro rifle are shotguns?

May 1, 2007, 12:53 PM
Rereading my reply I now realize that I came across as a little obnoxious, Sorry about that, It seems so simple to me but then again I'm just an old country boy. Vaya con Dios.

May 1, 2007, 04:37 PM
I'm sorry too. I probably shouldn't have jumped on you so quickly there either perhaps. :)