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A sawed-off break-open shotgun of the type commonly known as a Lupara

A short-barreled, pump-action shotgun with an 8.5 inch barrel and shortened tubular magazine

A sawed-off shotgun (US, CAN) also called a sawn-off shotgun (UK, IRL, AU, NZ) and a short-barreled shotgun (SBS) (U.S. legislative terminology), is a type of shotgun with a shorter gun barrel—typically under 18 inches—and often a shorter or absent stock.

Sawed-off shotguns are easy to conceal and at close range have a wide spread of highly lethal pellets, so that accuracy in aiming is less essential. They are often the weapon of choice for criminals.[citation needed] The United States, Britain and Canada criminalized their possession in the 1930s.[1] They are subject to legal restrictions depending upon jurisdiction. They also are in use by military forces and police agencies worldwide.


Compared to a standard shotgun, the sawed-off shotgun has a shorter effective range, due to a lower muzzle velocity and wider spread of shot. Its reduced size makes it easier to maneuver and conceal. Powerful and compact, the weapon is especially suitable for use in small spaces. For example, military vehicle crews, and entry teams running through doorways (see entry shotgun) often use them. To make shotguns less concealable, many jurisdictions have a minimum legal length for shotgun barrels.[2] Most gun makers in the U.S. have not offered sawed-off shotguns to the public since the early 1900s when shotguns with barrel lengths of under 18" were restricted, although they had been offered prior to that time without being illegally modified. Currently, aftermarket companies and Special Occupational Taxpayers exist that legally convert most name brand shotguns into such weapons, upon payment of either a $200.00 or $5.00 Federal fee for transferring ownership.[2][3]

However, a sawed-off shotgun is often an unofficial modification of a standard shotgun. In countries where handguns are more costly or difficult to obtain, criminals might convert legally purchased or stolen shotguns into concealable weapons. For criminal organizations, the availability of standard hunting ammunition is another advantage of sawed-off shotguns. However, this practice is not limited to localities where handguns are difficult to obtain. Sawed-off shotguns might be made for a number of reasons, such as the reputation they have gained through portrayal in action movies and news reports of crime incidents.

The term most genuinely applies to illegal weapons that are created by cutting off the barrel of a standard shotgun. This has a dramatic effect on double-barreled or single-shot shotguns because the barrel can be cut to any length. Pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns have a tube magazine attached to the underside of the barrel which limits the minimum barrel length to slightly longer than the length of the magazine tube, when only the barrel is modified. Although the magazine can be shortened, with a corresponding loss in magazine capacity, such a modification tends to be considerably more technically complex, often involving large diameter square threading, and welding or silver soldering, at a bare minimum. Repeating-fire shotguns with box magazines do not lose shell capacity when sawed off, but they are far less common than those with tubular magazines. Shotguns manufactured with barrels under the legal minimum length frequently fall into special categories.

Legal restrictions

Many nations have placed legal restrictions on sawed-off shotguns. The following are the restrictions for specific nations.


A shotgun may not have its barrel shortened so as to change the category under which that shotgun would be classified. In some states, any alteration to the length of the barrel requires permission from the Chief Commissioner of Police.[4]


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12-gauge shotguns with barrel lengths shorter than 24 inches (609 millimeters), are classified as weapons restricted to military and law enforcement only. Shotguns with smaller gauges do not have barrel length restrictions, even for single-shot or double-barrel pistols. Barrels for 28 gauge, 32 gauge, or .410 bore shotguns may be of any length if they are original from the factory.


Short-barreled, manually operated shotguns (non-semi-automatics) are non-restricted as long as the barrel remains unmodified from the original factory length. There is no legal minimum for shotgun barrels as long as they are not handguns, and so shotguns with barrels as short as 8.5 inches are available in Canada.[5][6] Despite this, the act of reducing the barrel of a shotgun with a greater than 470 mm (18.5 inch) barrel below this length by sawing, cutting, or "otherwise" (by anyone other than a recognized gun manufacturer) is prohibited.[7]

United Kingdom

Shotguns held on a shotgun certificate are subject to a legal minimum barrel length of 24 inches (61 cm), but there is no limit on overall length meaning that 'pistol grip only' shotguns are legal, though the barrels would be longer than most 'sawed-off shotguns'. Shotguns held on a shotgun certificate must either have no magazine, or a non-removable magazine capable of holding no more than two rounds. Semi-automatic or pump action shotguns held on a firearms certificate (which are not subject to any magazine restrictions) are subject both to a minimum barrel length of 24 inches (61 cm) and a minimum overall length of 40 inches (102 cm). This precludes legal ownership of 'short' shotguns of this type on a firearms certificate..

Shotguns held on a firearms certificate that are neither semi-automatic nor pump action are subject only to a minimum barrel length of 12 inches (30 cm), well within the definition of a 'sawed-off shotgun'. Muzzleloading guns are exempt from this restriction and may have barrels of any length.[8]

United States

Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), it is illegal for a private citizen to possess a sawed-off modern smokeless powder shotgun (a shotgun with a barrel length shorter than 18 inches (46 cm) or an overall length shorter than 26 inches (66 cm)), without a tax-paid registration from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, requiring a background check and either a $200 or $5 tax for every transfer, depending upon the specific manufacturing circumstances of the particular sawed-off modern shotgun being transferred. Short-barreled muzzleloading blackpowder shotguns, in contrast, are not illegal by federal law and require no tax-stamped permit, although they may be illegal under state law. As with all NFA regulated firearms, a new tax stamp must be purchased before every transfer. Inter-state transfers must be facilitated through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) while intrastate transfers may be between two persons.[9]

In the US, shotguns originally manufactured without shoulder stocks (and thus is not legally a shotgun), with a total length under 26 inches, are classified as an "Any Other Weapon" by the BATFE and have a $5 transfer tax, if they are manufactured by a maker possessing the appropriate Class 2 Special Occupational Taxpayer Federal Firearms License. However, in order to convert an existing shoulder-stocked shotgun to a short-barreled shotgun or an existing pistol-grip-only shotgun to an "Any Other Weapon", a private citizen must pay the standard $200 NFA tax.[2]


Additional restrictions might apply in many other jurisdictions. State and local laws might entirely prohibit civilian possession of short-barrelled shotguns. (These restrictions do not apply to military and police departments.) 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 26" barrel and/or 32" 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 an SBS, an AOW only carries a $5.00 tax and can be moved interstate without Federal approval. However, to maintain its AOW status, it must not have a buttstock (making it a SBS) or a rifled slug barrel (making it a Destructive Device (DD) if the bore is over 0.5"). Firearms of this type are typically over 100 years old. These weapons produced with a barrel length under 18" are not considered sawed-off shotguns because they were not produced with a shoulder buttstock. Weapons with these specifications fall under the category of smooth bore handguns produced in heavy rifle calibers and 12/20 gauge shotgun calibers, contrary to illegal sawed-off shotguns and are not considered destructive devices. Any firearms capable of shooting shotgun style cartridges produced after the 18" minimum barrel restrictions were set into place are considered illegal sawed-off shotguns.

Police and military use

This short-barrelled shotgun was manufactured with a reduced-length barrel, rather than being modified after its manufacture.

Historical military use of sawed-off shotguns includes use as a primary weapon for Confederate cavalry during the American Civil War. These muzzle-loaded weapons were used primarily for close-range combat and to supplement the availability of more traditional short ranged weapons such as the saber or carbine. The availability of the source weapons and the ability to use single ball, shot, or a mix of both as the situation required were reasons why they were initially desired by those establishing Confederate cavalry units. They were replaced over time as more conventional arms became available and as the tactical use of cavalry shifted towards use as mounted infantry.

H&K Fabarm FP6 Entry - features a 14" barrel and is classified as a short-barrelled shotgun in the U.S.

In modern usage, 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 to 36 cm) as riot shotguns or combat shotguns for use in areas with restricted space. These are generally referred to as "entry shotguns", because they are generally used for entering buildings, where the short easy handling is more important than the increased ammunition capacity of a longer shotgun. Breaching rounds provide another use for very short shotguns. These rounds are usually made of sintered powdered metal, but 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 degrees 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. When through the door, the shot or sintered metal disperses quickly, and because 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. Because few 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

Shortening the length of a shotgun barrel does not significantly affect the pattern or spread of the pellets until it is decreased to under 50% of a typical barrel length.[10] The pattern is primarily affected 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 removes 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 farther. (See choke for more information on the impact of chokes. See shotgun shell for information on spreader loads.) See details on shot patterning.

Civilian usage

In the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, where handguns are not easily obtainable, the sawn-off shotgun was a common weapon in armed robberies during and shortly after the 1960s, and it is this use that most people associate with 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 from 2004 to 2005, while handguns made up 2501 of the weapons used in these robberies.[11]

A sawed-off shotgun with exposed, manually-cocked hammers and dual triggers is known as a lupara ("wolf-shot") in Italy, and while associated with organized crime, was originally used by Sicilian farmers and shepherds to protect their vineyards and flocks of animals.[12] In rural areas of North India, where it is seen as a weapon of authority and prestige, it is known as a dunali, literally meaning "two pipes". It is especially common in Bihar, Purvanchal, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

The bank robber Clyde Barrow modified his Browning A-5 shotgun by cutting the barrel down to the same length as the magazine tube, and shortening the stock by 5 to 6 inches (130 to 150 mm) to make it more concealable. A small, 10–12-inch (250–300 mm) strap was attached to both ends of the butt of the gun, and was looped around his shoulder, concealing the gun between his arm and chest under his jacket in the manner of a shoulder holster. The gun was drawn up quickly and fired from the shoulder under which it was carried. Barrow dubbed it the "Whippit", as he was able to "whip it" out easily.

The light weight of short-barreled shotguns, particularly in configurations that lack substantial stocks, leads some users to use short 'minishells' with lower shot and powder loading for comfortable casual use.[13]

Derived uses

  • Familiarity with descriptions and images of sawed-off shotguns via crime reports in the public media has led to "sawed-off" or "sawn-off" being used sometimes colloquially as "small or stripped version of"; there is an example in Daimler Armoured Car#Variants.

See also


  1. R. Blake Brown (2012). Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada. U of Toronto Press. p. 149. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 1973. 
  3. "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record". Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-006. United States Department of Justice. June 2007. Retrieved 10 September 2008. 
  4. Firearms Act 1996, Victoria, Australia Accessed March 4, 2009
  5. Dominion Arms Grizzly 8.5" 12 gauge shotgun; retrieved from
  6. Remington 870 Shorty 8.5" 12 gauge shotgun; retrieved from
  7. "The Lupara or Short Barreled Shotgun"; retrieved from
  9. "Transfers of NFA Firearms"; "ATF National Firearms Act Handbook"
  10. Moreau, T. S., Nickels, M. L., Wray, J. L, Bottemiller, K. W., and Rowe, W. F., "Pellet Patterns Fired by Sawed-Off Shotguns," Journal of Forensic Sciences, JFSCA, Vol. 30, No. 1, January 1985, pp. 137-149.
  11. Violent Crime Overview, Homicide and Gun Crime (Supplementary Volume to Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005)
  12. Chalker, Dennis; Dockery (2002). One Perfect Op: an Insider's Account of the Navy Seal Special Warfare Teams. New York: Morrow. pp. 251. ISBN 0-671-02465-5. 
  13. Will Dabbs (July–August 2004). "The .72 magnum: the ultimate crew-served handgun". American Handgunner. 

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