Definition Series - Part 3: "Shotgun"
by Kirk Lawson


In part 3 of our series of "definitions" let's look at what is a "shotgun." As we have already seen the term "shotgun" is something very specific.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 921 (a) (5), a "shotgun" is:
The term "shotgun'' 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 through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.
[ ref: of Federal Firearms Laws - 2010.pdf ]

So, like a "rifle" a "shotgun" is a "gun" which is "designed" and "intended" to be fired from the shoulder but it has a smooth bore with no rifling. Rifling is a generally defined as a set of grooves cut inside the barrel of a gun which spirals and is intended to impart a spin to the projectile, increasing stability and accuracy much like a good quarterback puts a spin on a football.

Just as with a "rifle," a "shotgun" has two types: the highly regulated and the very highly regulated, and the difference is much the same.

While the manufacture, distribution, and sale of a shotgun is already highly regulated, requiring 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, 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 "shotgun" like grandpa's squirrel-getter. The second type of shotgun is even more tightly regulated and is called a "short barreled shotgun." 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 shotguns to make them less unwieldy due to length.

(6) Defines a "short-barreled shotgun" as:

The term "short-barreled shotgun'' means a shotgun having one or more barrels less than eighteen inches in length and any weapon made from a shotgun (whether by alteration, modification or otherwise) if such a weapon as modified has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.

So a "short-barreled shotgun" is a "shotgun" as defined above which is less than 26 inches in over all length and/or has a barrel less than 18 inches in length.

As with the "short-barreled rifle," in order to possess a "short-barreled shotgun," 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 "shot-gun." And, just like with a "short-barreled rifle," if you do not have the special permission slip for a "short-barreled shotgun" you risk prison time.

Some of you gentle readers may be thinking about shotguns with rifled barrels and wondering where that fits in. They are still legally shotguns because, basically, they are designed and intended to use the same ammunition as a defined "shotgun." There is a bit more to it than that, but that is the broad strokes.