Measuring Firearms

By Richard Vasquez

Proper Measurement of Short-Barrel Rifles, Short-Barreled Shotguns and Other Firearms that Fire Shotgun Ammunition

All firearms are regulated by the Gun Control Act (GCA), and some firearms are also regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA). The NFA regulates firearms that have features outside of the standards specified in the GCA, such as Short-Barreled Rifles (SBR) and Short-Barreled Shotguns (SBS). There is also a category of “pistol-grip firearms” that applies to “firearms designed to fire shotgun ammunition” that were never a shotgun. These firearms appear to be regulated by the NFA but are not. In this article, these firearms and the method to measure them will be explained.

Most firearms have a definition in the GCA. Under the GCA, “rifles” are defined as follows: designed to be fired from the shoulder, having a rifled bore and a barrel at least 16 inches in length. “Shotguns” are defined as: having a smooth bore and designed to be fired from the shoulder. Though it is not called out in the GCA, there is also the category of “Other firearms designed to fire shotgun ammunition.” This is a complex definition not in the firearms regulations guide and will be explained on its own.

The GCA statutes do not specify the mandatory minimum length of a rifle in its definition of a rifle. This can be found in the 27 CFR 478.11 in the definition of an SBR and a weapon made from a rifle. The same goes for the definition of an SBS and a weapon made from a shotgun. If a person possesses a rifle and reduces the length to less than 16 inches, it becomes an NFA firearm as it now has a barrel length less than allowed in the GCA. Likewise for a shotgun, if the barrel is cut below 18 inches it becomes a “Short-Barreled” shotgun. The overall minimum length for both firearms is 26 inches.

What these modified firearms have in common is that they are originally made as complete rifles and complete shotguns. A person or entity modified them by reducing the length of the barrel. A...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N4 (May 2017)
and was posted online on March 17, 2017


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