Franchi SPAS-12 at RIA

The Franchi SPAS-12 (Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun) is a dual-action police shotgun produced in Italy between 1979 and 2000, and imported into the US until 1994. It can be operated either as a semiautomatic or a manual pump action, as a way to allow rapid semiautomatic fire with buckshot or similar ammunition but also function manually with lower pressure less-lethal types of ammunition (rubber slugs, beanbags, tear gas, etc). The gun was purchased by a decent number of law enforcement agencies, but it is far better known for its use in movies and video games, where its distinctive military styling makes it very popular with designers and prop masters.

Still, there are a couple interesting elements worth looking at on the SPAS-12. For one thing, they were subject to a safety recall for a safety selector which could sometimes cause the gun to fire when being switched from safe to fire. And, of course, there is that hook thing on the stock. What’s that for, anyway? I’ll show you…

22 Comments

  1. While it’s functionally pretty cool, I’ve always found something slightly ‘off’ about this design, it’s seems to have a bunch of good ideas put together in the most awkward way possible. Or may be it’s just the really sleek looking plastic handle and (oversized) pump-handle combined with the stamped metal folding stock and heat shield that just makes it aesthetically weird.
    It seems to have worked well enough, but I can’t bring myself to like it (which is weird since I aesthetically like the Cobray Terminator, even though I objectively know it’s a piece of crap)

    • I have to agree with you; there are just too many elements of the gun that don’t agree with each other. I fall under the generation that is primarily acquainted with this gun through video games, but I could never find myself to be impressed or enamored with its looks like many of my friends. I typically love the more “ugly” guns in history, but the SPAS-12 just sits in that uncanny valley, too awkward to be pretty but too modern to be beautifully strange. Thanks for saying what I’ve wanted to for so long.

  2. I don’t usually comment on your videos (because, why comment on hoplological perfection?), but I have to applaud your ending. It came completely out of the blue, and it genuinely made me laugh. Jokes aside; great video on a gun most of us have seen but few of us have detailed knowledge on. I eagerly look forward to your treasure trove of Rock Island Auction videos, as usual.

  3. The .45 auto long slide with the laser sight.
    The Franchi SPAS 12
    The Uzi 9mm
    A Gauz plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.
    “Hey only what ya see pal!”
    Anyway my friends and I used to lust for this shotgun when we were in junior high. It usually ended up in the dream arsenal. I remember when my friend Klint handled one at a gun show. He was really crazy about it. We asked him what he thought after handling it.”Well it’s cool but heavy he said.” FYI the SPAS also has screw in chokes. I wish other manufactures would follow suit. I find that fixed cylinder choke HD/combat are pretty much useless after 25 yards with buckshot. I got rid of a Winchester 1300 and a Mossberg 500 persuader for this same reason. I want more range. Am I right, or just too picky?

    • The first Terminator movie was my first thought too. Lasers have come a long way compared to the gizmo clamped to the AMT 45. It was a real laser sight if I recall correctly.

  4. I actually have one exactly like it for sale!!! Been asking on the low end of the estimate. Mine has a sling. Fun to shoot but dang heavy, too heavy to carry. Load it with those mini shells and us the pump action aspect, seems like you shoot all day on one magazine full.

  5. Considering it was a 1970s design its an advanced design .The SPAS has way too many little openings for ingress of dust,dirt,spiders etc. It’s also really easy to shoot. The weight makes the hottest loads manageable.
    I have read that the action was actually used in a sporting Shotgun with a wooden stock however I have never seen one. The design really needs advanced metallurgical redisign. Excellent presentation.

    • I’d have to make a guess and say the Franchi 530 might be the sporting cousin of the SPAS-12. I know of the existence of the LAW-12 and SAS-12 which are the semi-auto and pump only cousins of the SPAS but those two were still marketed towards law enforcement.

      The Franchi 530 is fully a sporting arm and the only ones I’ve ever seen for sale are Trap models, my own example sports a high comb walnut stock, 30″ high rib barrel, and a unique choke assembly. The chokes simply drop in the front of a large housing on the muzzle and are retained by a pair of hex screws in the front. I actually used a SPAS-12 manual to properly disassemble my 530 for the first time and it is nearly identical internally.

  6. Yugoslavia acquired those in early ’80s to arm anti-terrorist units. They saw some use in war in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. SPAS-15 were also used and are still in use (being slowly replaced by Benelli M4).

  7. I bought one of these back in the early ’80s. Really a pretty miserable, but very cool looking weapon. Very heavy, reliability was pretty vague. Ended up trading it for an IBM compatible XT PC. When I look at the price tag on a SPAS today I wonder who got the better deal. But, I sure got a lot of use out of that PC. Sort of an investment in my future. And about as reliable as the SPAS.

  8. Alas, another overly specialized weapon for the police. At least it makes more sense than a Ruger Police Carbine, which seems even more overly specialized and unsuccessful for anything but target shooting and holding petty robbers at bay… Or am I wrong?

    • The PC in 9mm or .40 was a potentially good “house gun”, as well as a decent small-game gun with better meat-gathering potential than the 10/22. The latter is suitable for game up to rabbit or hare size; the centerfires could take raccoon (which is for pest control, not edibility), woodchuck, etc.

      And they made an excellent partner with a pistol of the same caliber, rather like a Western marshal having a Colt and Winchester in .44-40 WCF.

      (I used to use a Colt Anaconda and Winchester M1894, both in .44 Magnum, so I can personally attest to the efficiency of the arrangement.)

      The best thing about the PCs was that they hit harder than a .22 but didn’t beat your eardrums to death the way a Mini-14 in .223 does. They were also better for “in-town” use by police than most rifle-caliber centerfires.

      They died out largely because after 9/11, everybody wanted to get into the CTW act or at least look like it, and municipalities with more money than brainpower (or sales resistance) bought H&K MP5s and Colt M4s for all their “tactical teams”. You could buy three or four of these for the cost of one Hockler or Colt, even allowing for the police discount.

      But of course, they weren’t full-auto, and therefore weren’t “sexy” by government standards.

      I taught small arms, including full-auto(M-16/M2/Thompson/Mac-10 etc.) to police personnel thirty-plus years ago. And to be brutally honest, I’d trust Ian, or Bob, or most FW posters, with a full-auto weapon a lot more than I’d trust 9/10s of the students I tried to break of assorted bad habits with same.

      Frankly, remembering some of the things they did, my hair would be Peter Graves white- if I had any left, that is.

      cheers

      eon

      • I can see multiple 9mm carbines, however I am not aware of any .38 Super or .357 SIG self-loading carbines, can you name any? For me these cartridge looks to be logical choice for automatic pistol/self-loading carbine pair as they have higher muzzle velocity and hence should have better accuracy.

        Also, if you have statistical data what is now more popular: carbines firing automatic pistol cartridges or carbines firing revolver cartridges?

        • The nearest thing to a .38 Super carbine I’ve ever heard of was a pair of prototype Thompson M1928s in that caliber made by Colt for the original Auto-Ordnance firm in 1934 or thereabouts.

          Colt had just introduced the .38 Super auto cartridge, of course, along with the 1911A1 chambered for it, as a replacement for the less powerful .38 ACP round in the “Sporting Model”. I suspect they were trying to sell the new round to police, bank guards, armored car companies, prisons, and etc.

          As for a .357 SIG, never heard of one at all. Although any longarm in .40 S&W should be able to handle .357 SIG with a new barrel chambered for it. Feeding should be fairly reliable, as well, rather like an SMG in 7.62 x 25mm.

          I always thought the great “missed opportunity” with the Thompson was right at the start, when they decided to chamber it for .45 ACP. The Winchester Model 1907 and 1910 self-loading carbine in .351 WSL were being used in the trenches of the Western Front at the time (1917-18), so why didn’t they make the “Trench Broom” in that caliber?

          The Thompson in .351 would almost qualify as a forerunner of the “assault rifle”. The Thompson in .30 Carbine (several prototypes in 1940-41) absolutely did.

          cheers

          eon

    • They used the same magazines as the Ruger pistols, which was an interesting arrangement. Like Eon said, there is an advantage of one’s rifle and pistol using the same ammo–44-40 lever guns and six shooters were a popular combination in the old west for a reason. Grab a rifle and already have two spare magazines, not a bad idea.

      The main point, I think, was that they would allow for much more accurate shooting over a pistol. Back in the ’90’s when semi-auto pistols took over, there were cases where the cops would shoot dozens of rounds and not hit anything. Under stress a rifle would be easier to shoot with accuracy. They were blow-back and presumably did not need as much maintenance as a gas operated gun. Not a bad idea, but the timing was off. Also, it appealed to departments on a budget, and the departments using first generation Ruger semi-autos were on a budget. Also, that was when police having a militarized appearance was a bug, not a feature, and the rifles did not look threatening.

    • If I recall correctly the “crime bill” didn’t move anything over to the NFA, rather it was an outright ban on the sale of anything that met certain criteria that was manufactured after a given date. A lot of manufacturers worked around it by changing the name of the gun and putting on a muzzle brake instead of a flash hider, etc. For this shotgun the market probably wasn’t large enough to justify it.

  9. I owned one of these “way back when”. The hook was, as stated, to allow one-handed firing because it was originally intended to arm the crew chief on a C-SAR helo with a suppressive-fire weapon he could use while either holding on or (if wearing his dummy harness correctly) helping a rescuee in the door when Charlie or the equivalent was trying to AK-47 their collective backsides.

    I bought it from a friend who didn’t need it anymore, having retired from the sheriff’s department (it was his cruiser gun).

    The main thing I found other than it being a heavy and clumsy bugger, was that the dual safety system had to be manipulated just so to make it go “bang”. If either safety wasn’t exactly on “fire”, no “bang”. And that flipover lever was noted for not engaging fully in the “fire” position. (A factor I’ve found on three SPAS other than mine, so it wasn’t just wear on the one.)

    I sold it for $600 to a collector sixteen years ago, making $200 on the deal. My tactical shotgun, BTW, was a Remington 870SP Deer, 3″ Magnum, oil-finished wood stock and forearm, rifle sights, with a 20″ barrel (IC, no rifling!) and seven-shot magazine extender.

    I need to get another one of those.

    cheers

    eon

  10. Just FYI for anyone who might pick one of these up and finds that the recoil buffer is cactus, I believe you can still buy them although I found getting one a bit difficult so I discovered that a nylon washer from your standard kitchen tap is just about the perfect fit.

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