Definition Series - Part 2: "Rifle"
by Kirk Lawson
To continue in our series of "definitions" let's look at what is a "rifle." As we saw with "gun," a "rifle" is something, legally, very specific.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 921 (a) (7), a "rifle" is:
The term "rifle'' means a 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 to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.
[ ref: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-me/legacy/2012/06/01/Summary of Federal Firearms Laws - 2010.pdf ]
So, basically, if the machine fits the legal definition of a "gun" and is designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder, it is a "rifle." But it turns out that there are two types of rifles. One that is tightly regulated and one which is even more tightly regulated. Yes, all guns are tightly regulated. The manufacturer has to have at least two special licenses from the government, each and every gun is serial numbered from its beginning, tracked from the first pass of a machine, regulated in transport from the manufacturer to the distributor, tracked from the distributor to the retailer (all of which must have special licenses), tracked and registered by law from the retailer to the purchaser, the purchaser must undergo a federal background check and must be a minimum age to even purchase, all before the purchaser can take possession of the machine. What other machine has such stringent licensing and tracking? And that's just for a standard "rifle" like grandpa's deer rifle. The second type of rifle is even more tightly regulated and is called a "short barreled rifle." Again, this was originally defined in the National Firearms Act of 1934 when there was a lot of public fear over gangsters and bank-robbers who would sometimes cut down the length their rifles to make them less unwieldy due to length.
(8) defines a "short barreled rifle" as:
The term "short-barreled rifle'' means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.
So a "short barreled rifle" is a "gun" that is "designed" and "intended" to be fired from the shoulder but has an overall length of less than 26 inches and/or a barrel length of less than 16 inches. In order to legally own a "short barreled rifle" the owner must apply for and receive an additional special license, paying $200 extra money to the government for the permission, while still complying with all the rules for both a "gun" and a "rifle."
And possessing a "short barreled rifle" without the special permission slip is a way to earn an arrest, charges for violating federal law, and potential prison time.
There's some extra stuff about what constitutes rifling (lands and grooves) in the barrel as well, but we will look at that more in the definition of "shotgun."