Sawed-off shotgun

A sawed-off shotgun (US) also known as a sawn-off shotgun (UK, AU, NZ; also used in US) or a short-barreled shotgun (or SBS) (U.S., legislative terminology), is a type of shotgun with a shorter gun barrel and often a shorter or deleted stock. Compared to a standard shotgun, the sawed-off shotgun has a shorter effective range, but the same destructive power. Its reduced size makes it easier to maneuver and conceal. Such a powerful and compact weapon is especially suitable for use in small spaces, such as by vehicle crews, and entry teams running through doorways (see entry shotgun). To make shotguns less concealable, many jurisdictions have a minimum legal length for shotgun barrels. Most gun makers in the U.S. do not offer sawed-off shotguns to the public, although aftermarket companies and Special Occupation Taxpayers exist to legally convert most name brand shotguns into such weapons, assuming payment of either a $200.00 or $5.00 Federal fee for transferring ownership.

As its name implies, the sawn-off shotgun is usually produced by home-made modification of a standard shotgun. In countries where handguns and pistol ammunition are rare due to legal restrictions or high price, criminals are known to convert legal or stolen hunting weapons into concealable weapons. For criminal organizations, the availability of standard hunting ammunition (by theft or transaction) is another advantage of sawn-off shotguns. However, this practice is not limited to localities where handguns are difficult to obtain. Sawn-off shotguns may be made for a number of reasons, such as the reputation they have gained through portrayal in action movies.

Legal issues

The term most genuinely applies to illegal weapons that were created by literally sawing off a regular shotgun's barrel. Sawing off has the most dramatic effect when applied to double-barreled shotguns or single-shot shotguns. Pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns have a tube magazine attached to the underside of the barrel which limits the minimum barrel length to the length of the magazine tube (although this too can be shortened, with a corresponding loss in magazine capacity). The notorious Clyde Barrow designed a sawn off pump/autoloader shotgun that had the barrel shortened to a shotshell's length longer than the mag tube, and the stock was shortened a few inches, though not all the way to the pistol grip. A small, 10-12" strap was attached on both ends to the very butt of the gun, and was looped around the shoulder, concealing the gun between the arm and chest under the shooter's jacket, and carried there like a shoulder holster. The gun was drawn up quickly and fired from the shoulder on which it was carried. Clyde dubbed it the "Whip-it-Gun", as he was able to "whip it" out easily. Shotguns with box magazines do not lose capacity when sawn off, but they are far less common than those with tubular magazines. Shotguns manufactured with barrels under the legal minimum length, while not literally "sawn-off" shotguns, are usually regarded the same as shotguns that were made illegal through modification.

In the United States, due to the National Firearms Act, it is illegal for a private citizen to possess a sawed-off modern smokeless powder shotgun (a barrel length less than 18 in. or 46 cm and an overall length less than 26 inches) without a tax-stamped permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which requires an extensive background check and a $200.00 fee for every transfer. (Short-barreled blackpowder shotguns, in contrast, are not illegal, by federal law, and require no tax-stamped permit, although they may be illegal under state law.) A new tax stamp must be purchased with every transfer of a modern smokeless powder short-barrelled shotgun, and transfers must be made through a Class III Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer.

Additional restrictions may apply in many other jurisdictions. State and local laws may entirely prohibit civilian possession of short-barrelled shotguns. (These restrictions do not apply to military and police departments.) In most states, a shotgun less than a certain length is legally classed as a handgun, and requires a handgun licence (which is much more difficult to obtain than a basic shotgun license), plus a registration. The act of sawing off the gun would, in these jurisdictions, constitute unlawful manufacture of a handgun.

In addition, some firearm types that would normally be considered to fall into the Short Barrel Shotgun (SBS) category are not legally considered to be a SBS. A shotgun is legally defined as a shoulder mounted firearm that fires shot. Shotguns and shotgun receivers that have never had a buttstock of any type installed are not shotguns, as they cannot be shoulder mounted. Therefore, cutting one of these below the 18" barrel and/or 26" overall length cannot produce a SBS as the firearm was never a shotgun. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives recognizes these firearms as being a smooth bore handgun which is an Any Other Weapon (AOW). Unlike a SBS, an AOW only carries a $5.00 tax and can be moved interstate without Federal approval. However, to maintain its AOW status, one may generally not have a buttstock (making it a SBS) or a rifled slug barrel (making it a Destructive Device (DD); a handgun with a bore over 0.5"). Both SBS and DD weapons require a $200.00 transfer tax and prior Federal approval to transport interstate.

British law allows a certificate to be held for Section 2 firearms (Shotguns with two or less shells held in a magazine) and only for use in vermin control, re-enactment, and clay pigeon and target shooting. Under a Section 1 certificate a Shotgun which holds no more than two, or less shells may be legally owned at whatever barrel, and overall length the owner wishes. Semi automatics, and pump action Shotguns regardless of capacity remain illegal under a certain barrel, and overall length even on a Section 1 certificate.

Police and military use

Minimum length and barrel length restrictions only apply to civilian use; military and police departments may issue short-barreled shotguns, and major manufacturers offer special models with barrels in the range of 10 to 14 inches (25-36 cm) as riot shotguns or combat shotguns for use in areas with restricted space. These are generally referred to as "entry shotguns", as they are generally used for entering buildings, where the short, easy handling is more important than the increased ammunition capacity of a longer shotgun. Another use for very short shotguns is for use with breaching rounds, which are usually made of sintered powdered metal, although a normal buckshot or bird shot round will also work. A shotgun is used for breaching by placing the gun next to a door lock (0 to 2 inches away, 0 to 5 cm), and firing at a 45 degree downward angle through the door between the lock or latch and the door frame. The impact of the projectile(s) opens a hole through the door, removing the latch or locking bolt. Once through the door, the shot or sintered metal disperses quickly, and since it was aimed downwards, the risk of harming occupants on the other side of the breached door is minimized. Breaching guns used by police and the military may have barrels as short as 10 inches (25 cm), and they often have only a pistol grip rather than a full butt stock. Some models use a special cup-like muzzle extension to further minimize the risk of debris injuring the shooter. Since only a couple of rounds are fired, any sporting shotgun with a 3 round capacity could be shortened and used as a capable breaching shotgun.

Barrel length and shot spread

The length of a shotgun barrel does not significantly affect the pattern or spread of the pellets. The pattern is primarily impacted by the type of cartridge fired and the choke, or constriction normally found at the muzzle of a shotgun barrel. Cutting off the end of the barrel will remove the choke, which generally only extends about two inches (about 5 cm) inward from the muzzle. This results in a cylinder bore, which causes the widest spread generally found in shotgun barrels. For an even wider pattern, special "spreader chokes" or "spreader loads" can be used, that are designed to spread the shot further. (See choke for more information on the impact of chokes. See shotgun shell for information on spreader loads.)

Civilian usage

In the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, where handguns are not easily obtainable, the sawn-off shotgun was an almost ubiquitous feature of armed robberies from the 1960s on, and it is with this use that most people associate the weapon. However, in more recent years, handguns and handgun replicas have been more easily available in the United Kingdom, despite an increase in legal restrictions on civilian ownership of handguns in the area: sawn-off shotguns were used in only 157 out of a total of 3727 robberies involving firearms in England and Wales in 2004/05, compared to handguns in 2501 robberies. .

In the UK, a shotgun sawn-off to the extent that the barrel is less than 30 cm or the overall length is less than 60 cm is deemed to be a 'short-barreled' shotgun and thus prohibited.

A sawn-off shotgun with exposed, manually cocked hammers, and dual triggers is known as a Lupara in Italy, and while associated with organised crime, was originally used by Sicilian farmers and shepherds to protect their vineyards and flocks of animals.

See also


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