The Mossberg Shockwave made a splash earlier this year and now Saurez International is offering the similar Stakeout based off of the Remington 870. These two firearms are “birds-head grip” shotguns with barrels slightly longer than 14 inches. Each is pump operated with an overall length slightly longer than 26 inches. And neither is considered a firearm under the regulations of the National Firearms Act (NFA).
How is that?
Gun Control Act (GCA)
The GCA is the base line for all Federal firearm regulations. It is the broadest sweeping of the Federal Acts and the most likely to regulate any given firearm.
The GCA defines a firearm, in part, as “any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” 18 USC § 921(a)(3). Since the Shockwave and Stakeout are designed to use regular 12 gauge ammunition and to “expel” such projectiles as are commonly loaded in said shells, these firearms clearly fall within the definition of the GCA.
The GCA further defines a shotgun, in part, as a firearm “fired from the shoulder.” Because these two firearms are not designed to be fired from the shoulder, they do not meet the definition of a shotgun. Similarly, the definition of a hand gun, as more fully discussed below, includes the limitation of use with a “single hand.” These firearms, being designed to grip with both hands, also fail to meet the definition of a handgun.
Thus, these firearms fall into the catchall provision and are not a defined type of firearm. However, the GCA isn’t the only Federal Act to consider.
National Firearms Act (NFA)
The NFA is one of the first Federal Acts regulating firearms. The law was designed to apply only to a select class of firearms that meet a more narrowed definition. Firearms regulated under the NFA require a lengthy transfer process, and the act creates a registry of all legally owned NFA firearms in the country. See an earlier, detailed article on the NFA.
The main definition for NFA Firearms is found at 26 USC § 5845(a). However, the definition of firearm here includes the catch all phrase “any other weapon.” (It also includes a host of other firearms, such as machine guns, which are not relevant to an examination of these two firearms.)
The catch all phrase “any other weapon” is defined in 26 USC § 5845(e):
(e)Any other weapon
The term “any other weapon” means any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.
This definition creates a nightmare of a sentence diagram and is in dire need of being explained in clear English. To start, we can break the definition down into two parts. First is the including phrase designed to capture items in the definition, and the second part is specific exceptions released from inclusion in the first part regardless of meeting the language of said definition.
The exceptions are found in the last sentence: “Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.” We can very quickly rule out the exceptions for the Shockwave and Stakeout. The firearms are not designed to be fired from the shoulder, and the barrels are not rifled. Thus we can dismiss this part of the definition.
A Detailed Look at the Any Other Weapon Definition
Knowing that the exceptions will not affect this firearm, we must look at the first part of the definition. We can break this down and enhance legibility by using a few labels. Consider the letters inserted in square brackets:
“The term “any other weapon” means any [(a)] weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, [(b)] a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, [(c)] weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and [(d)] shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire.
Let us proceed to examine these in order
[(a)] Concealable Weapon
(a) includes all firearms “capable of being concealed on the person”. What is capable of being concealed unfortunately is subjective. However the Government’s application must be non-ambiguous to survive Constitutional scrutiny. Therefore, the ATF refers back to the definition of firearm in 26 USC § 5845(a) and uses the length of 26 inches as the measure of conceal-ability.
Right or wrong, Congress decided that a firearm made from a long gun and less than 26 inches in length should be registered due to the firearm’s concealable nature. 26 USC § 5845(a)(4). The ATF has logically extrapolated this requirement to firearms not made from long guns but that are otherwise not pistols.
The Shockwave and Stakeout are slightly longer than 26 inches in length. This length is expressly designed so the firearms do not qualify under this part of the NFA Firearm definition. Therefore, absent actual concealment on the person, these firearms do not qualify under this part of the definition.
[(b)] Smooth Bore Pistols
(b) seems like it catches these firearms. They are smooth bore, and they have a sort of “pistol grip” (referred to as a “birds head grip”). So why does not this include them in the NFA? The birds head grip is not truly a pistol grip.
The shape of the birds-head, unlike the classic pistol grip, necessitates the use of a second hand. (The recoil of the firearm also necessitates the use of a second hand.) Since pistol and handgun are not defined in the NFA, we look to the GCA definition of handgun at 18 USC § 921(29). As mentioned above, there is a “single hand” limitation. A hand gun is designed “to be held and fired by the use of a single hand.”
The design for use by a single hand is a critical element of the definition of a handgun. Remove this feature, and you have another type of firearm. These two firearms, by the virtue of their grip shape and recoil, are designed to be held by two hands. Therefore, these firearms do not fall into the classification of a handgun and are thus not included under [(b)].
[(c)] Combination Guns
(c) is easy to rule out since these firearms do not have a combination rifle and shogun barrel. Instead, these firearms have a single shotgun barrel, and are thus not included here.
[(d)] Readily Restorable Firearms
(d) is a clarifying statement that includes in the definition firearms that can be restored to shoot, though otherwise decommissioned. To be included in this subpart though, the firearm would have to be included in another subpart but for being decommissioned. These firearms are not included in another subpart, are not decommissioned, and therefore do not meet this part of the definition.
For the reasons given in each section above, the shockwave and stakeout do not fall into any of the categories above that would satisfy the definition “firearms” under the NFA. Hence, these firearms are not regulated under the NFA.
WARNING: Concealing either of these firearms on your person could cause the same to fall into category [(a)] above regardless of length. In this instance, the firearms would become NFA firearms.
The Shockwave and Stakeout clearly meet the GCA definition of a firearm–that is each is designed to expel a projectile via the use of an explosive force. However these firearms do not meet the definition of firearm under the NFA, and therefore are not regulated under that act. Thus these firearms can be bought and sold just like all other Title I firearms under the GCA. This is why you can take one home today if you choose.