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Are Sawed-Off Shotguns Legal to Make or Own?

We answer the important question...are sawed-off shotguns legal or will the ATF come knocking? See what our legal guru has to say.

Shotguns are the classic home defense weapon.

They’re much more forgiving than a handgun or rifle when it comes to the point-and-shoot tactic when you hear that bump in the night.

Mossberg Retro Shotguns 590 on a stump
They’re also gorgeous!

The downside is that it can get a little tricky navigating doors and hallways with both hands on a long gun.

Enter the sawed-off shotgun!

Illegally Sawed Off Shotgun
An illegally made sawed-off shotgun. (Photo: Oxnard Police Department)

But aren’t they illegal? Can you even own a sawed-off shotgun? We’re here to help you figure that out. We’ll run through what a sawed-off is and the legalities regarding these firearms.  

Let’s dig in!

Table of Contents


Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal, it is not to be construed as legal advice and is for educational and entertainment purposes only.

I Wish It Were Smaller

Said no one ever…except maybe when it comes to cutting down the size of a shotgun to something more maneuverable.

Of course, there is the issue of legality. Fortunately, a sawed-off shotgun is actually legal! Mostly.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s important to first know the legal definition of a sawed-off shotgun.

The ATF refers to a sawed-off shotgun as a “12-gauge Crude Manufacture,” and it is defined as “any shotgun with a barrel less than 18-inches and/or an overall length of less than 26-inches, with the stock altered and barrel cut down.”

ATF Legal seagulls

This means that if you were to take a shotgun and cut down, or saw off, the barrel to less than 18-inches, and alter the stock so that the overall length was less than 26-inches, you’d have a 12-gauge Crude Manufacture.

Just doesn’t quite have the ring of “sawed-off shotgun,” does it?

A key part of the definition is that the barrel is less than 18-inches and/or the overall length is less than 26-inches.

Sawed Off Shotgun
Sawed-Off Shotgun (Photo: Bluedog via WikiCommons)

Only one of those boxes needs to be checked, not both.

You can’t just shorten the barrel and keep the overall length at 26-inches and think you’ve skated by.

Benelli M4 Left Side Shooting
You can’t just start cutting things off here…

The other important point to note regarding sawed-off shotguns is that they fall under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

As an NFA weapon, you must register the firearm with the ATF and pay the $200 tax – like you would a full-auto rifle or suppressor — before you may legally make or own the weapon. 

ATF Tax Stamp
This holds the key to many of our dreams…

So, They Aren’t Illegal?

While the ATF permits making and owning sawed-off shotguns — with their permission, of course — that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear.

Many states have their own laws when it comes to firearms.

Like how AR-15s and suppressors may be restricted or even outright banned in certain states, sawed-off shotguns are illegal to make or own in some states as well.

Best 9mm and Multi-Caliber Pistol Suppressors
Not everyone can own one of these.

You’ll want to check with your local police or maybe a friendly attorney knowledgeable about the Second Amendment before going all in and ponying up $200 to the ATF.

If a sawed-off shotgun isn’t an option, there are alternatives like the Mossberg Shockwave.

These types of firearms share similar characteristics with a typical sawed-off shotgun. But through the magic of loopholes, they don’t technically meet the definitions under the ATF of a “12-gauge Crude Manufacture.”

Ultimate Shockwave Build
The word of the day is loophole, friends.

In the case of the Shockwave, it has a barrel under 16-inches and is over 26-inches in overall length, with a grip but no stock.

So, legally it’s not a shotgun of any type, sawed-off or otherwise, in the eyes of the ATF.

As usual, though, you’ll want to ensure that even if a gun like the Shockwave gets around the ATF definitions, it also doesn’t run into any issues with your state laws. 


So, are sawed-off shotguns illegal? The answer to that is…it depends. If you live in a gun-friendly state, most likely, you can legally own one so long as you register it with the ATF first.

If you don’t live in a state where they are legal, we suggest looking into the Shockwave and seeing if that’s a-okay to own.

Shockwave 590M (11)
Shockwave 590M

But, as with anything legal, we highly suggest you seek out more information with an attorney in your area who can advise you on the specifics of your locality.

Do you have experience with sawed-off shotguns or the Mossberg Shockwave? Let us know in the comments! To read more on the Shockwave, check out our review on it and see what upgrades we tossed on!

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2 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    A.J. Hodges

    An extra point you failed to clarify is why the shockwave doesn't count. Because the shockwave never had a stock it doesn't count as a modified shotgun, it counts as a 12 gauge "firearm". Just like with full-auto, if that receiver ever had a stock it counts as a shotgun and all applicable laws apply.

    August 12, 2021 12:59 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      they do have an article on that

      August 16, 2021 10:15 am
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