USAS 12 in the 50th State

By Mark Genovese

I would have to say my interest was first kindled for this type of weapon back in a 1971 Gun World Magazine, with a picture of Mr. Max Atchisson, a noted firearms inventor, demonstrating his drum fed, fully automatic 12 gauge assault shotgun.

It would be many years before this unusual firearm would try to make its way to the civilian marketplace. The first attempt was back in the early 80’s with Scepter, Inc., a company out of Marietta, Georgia. The gun reemerged as the Atchisson ASSAULT 12, with a slick sales brochure and a plea for “advance deposits against future Atchisson ASSAULT 12 deliveries on a most favorable basis. Law and order continue to break down daily. Order yours today.”

Although the new ASSAULT 12 concept in shotgun technology, employing a unique clamshell principle and constructed from flat steel stampings and high strength moldings never really made it off the ground despite our loss of law and order. In the interim, main stream shotgun manufacturers like Mossberg with their Model 500 Bullpup 12 and the Franchi Spas 12 semi-pump and their ultra rare magazine fed Spas 15 were trying to fill the high capacity styled civilian sales.

The whole idea appeared all but dead until April 1990. When a sales representative from a then unknown Gilbert Equipment Company, Inc. of Mobile, Alabama as an afterthought made his way to the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, Kentucky. For the first time the public would witness the USAS 12’s thunderous roar and impressive fire with twenty rounds of 00 buckshot heading downrange in full auto.

It appears this shotgun is the first, from the ground up design to come out of the Southeast since the Civil War. The gun was being made under license by Daewoo Precision in Phoson, Korea. Contrary to the popular but untrue (Associated Press reporter Carolyn Skornec Tuesday, March 1, 1994) rumor, the USAS 12 was not “originally designed for riot control in South Korea.” The weapon was however, from the beginning designed to fire selectively. A semi-automatic version was made available to the public in late summer 1990.

This gun is very unique to say the least. It is best described as looking like an AR15 on steroids. Weighing in at about 14 pounds empty makes it a behemoth in the shotgun world, not for the faint of heart. Incredibly robust in construction and materials, it’s completely ambidextrous, left and right hand ejection ports with spring loaded covers, right and left ejectors, safeties on both sides and you can mount the cocking handle on either side as well. Some AR15 parts are used, such as the pistol grip, the front and rear sights and the fire control assembly. The bolt itself is massive with an unusual, almost half inch round locking lug that runs vertically through the bolt. As the bolt comes to battery the lug will cam into a hole in the upper part of the barrel extension just before cartridge ignition. Disassembly is accomplished without tools. Overall length is 38 3/4 inches, the barrel is just under 19 inches. The receiver appears to be cast alloy aluminum with a fiber reinforced shoulder stock, pistol grip and forearm.

I purchased my USAS 12 directly from Gilbert Equipment in April 1991 for $900.00. The gun was delivered with a manual, tool roll, cleaning rod, M60 sling and two ten round magazines at $25.00 apiece and one twenty round drum for $90.00. At the time I thought $90.00 for a plastic magazine was absolutely outrageous. Currently this item sells in the four to five hundred dollar range, if you can find one. The stick mags go for $75.00 each and the gun itself is up to $2,500.00. Wow!!! I guess I did pretty well.

To make a long story short, I have fired this weapon on many occasions with absolutely no malfunctions whatsoever, it is very dependable. For best results, use the recommended Winchester 2 3/4” slugs or 00 buckshot. Other brands will not fit the optional twenty round drum magazines nor will they function properly in this firearm. The other really unique feature of this shotgun is that on March 1, 1994, the Secretary of the Treasury announced that the USAS 12 shotguns had been classified as Destructive Devices subject to registration and tax controls under the NFA. The ATF rulings are retroactive for registration purposes. This means that all such weapons possessed prior to March 1, 1994 must be registered, but the $200.00 transfer fee did not apply to the original owner. However, subsequent transfers will be subject to the tax. (This registration period ended in May of 2001, and ATF will not accept anymore Form 1s on these shotguns- if not registered, they are considered contraband.)

In my opinion this whole affair ordered by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen was a knee jerk reaction orchestrated and articulated for the media and poll number appeal by the most nauseating president that this great nation has ever seen. The evidence for such a hostile bureaucratic sledgehammer type of solution for a nonexistent, non-problem was pathetic at best. Especially for law-abiding citizens like myself, who all of a sudden were made a criminal by virtue of possessing a class three item in a non-class three, very restrictive state.

The way I saw it, I had two choices, I could go belly up and say bye bye to $1,095.00 very hard earned dollars or put my family jewels on the line, fill out all the paperwork, submit it to our Chief of Police for his signature and see where the chips fall. I could hardly believe my eyes when one week later I got my two form 1’s back and both were signed, what a relief. Federally registered Destructive Devices are legal in the Fiftieth state. It took Uncle Sam exactly ninety days to put this little check mark in the approved box and sign D. Henson, authorized ATF official. Let me tell you, in that three months my paranoid little brain went over everything I had ever done wrong in my whole life, including the slingshot I stole from Woolworth when I was seven. Actually in retrospect, it’s probably a healthy thing to beat yourself with these type of thoughts every once in awhile for all those who haven’t been to confession in thirty or forty years.

After carefully reading our State Constitution and Local Ordinances I surmised the only other legal NFA item I could ask a signature from our CLEO was an M79 grenade launcher. But my window of opportunity apparently has closed. I prepared all the paperwork as before and submitted it to our new young Chief of Police. That was two years ago- never did hear form him. I guess he’s real busy. Aloha from the Valley Isle.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N5 (February 2002)
and was posted online on March 7, 2014


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