Why Are Short Barreled Rifles Actually Regulated in the US?

The simple truth is that short rifles and short shotguns were never a problem, and continue to not be a problem today. The 1934 National Firearms Act originally wanted to restrict handgun ownership, and the clauses relating to SBRs and SBSs were simply to close the loophole of a person cutting down a rifle or shotgun to get around a handgun prohibition. That handgun (effective) prohibition was removed before the legislation was passed, but the SBR/SBS parts were left in. And thus for 89 years we have has the ridiculous legal situation in which a handgun is fine, a long gun is fine, but something in between is prohibitively regulated.

One major change to the NFA came in 1968, when the minimum legal barrel length for rifles was dropped form 18 inches to 16 inches. Why? Because the government had already sold a quarter million M1 Carbines – with illegally-short barrels – to private citizens, thus rendering them all felons. Instead of trying to enforce a clearly irrational law, Congress reduced the barrel length stipulation.

With this issue once again coming to a head over pistol braces, it is time to finally solve the problem and end this nonsense. Short barreled rifles and short barreled shotguns (and AOWs) should be removed form the NFA entirely. Their regulation is a waste of law enforcement’s time and a massive bureaucratic burden on individual citizens, who are faced with felony convictions and 10 year prison sentences for utterly harmless actions.

46 Comments

    • Dear Ian,
      Thanks for explaining the history and logic behind those gun regulations. The public so rarely hears this important information.

  1. It seems to me that the existence and availability of bullpup-type rifles renders the entire argument against SBRs technically and practically moot. It is time for some realistic judicial discretion…

    • For the same reason, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are trying to ban bullpups. They ban some bullpups – by name – in current firearms regulations … similar to the way that they ban hundreds of AK and AR platform “assault weapons” by name (e.g. manufacturer “X” model “1234”).”Assault weapon” is a legal term in Canada, primarily aimed at what soldiers call semi-automatic “assault rifles” chambered to fire 5.56 X 45mm NATO or 7.62 X 39mm Soviet ammo.
      Fully-automatic “assault rifles” or machineguns have always been PROHIBITED for civilian ownership in Canada. Machineguns are PROHIBITED because police hate being out-gunned. Mind you, the numbers of fully-automatic machineguns that have been used in committing crimes in Canada is somewhere between tiny and zero.

      • No they have not. Machine gun registration started in 1951. Prohibition came in the late 1970s. There are still grandfathered machine gun owners out there.

    • I read a novel a whiles back. The protagonist, one Thorsten Hadur, says, “We have to get past this crippling superstition that there is any longer anything called normal life.” And he is right. In the past 7 or so years, a collectivist revolution has taken place in the U.S. Waiting for judges or the authorities to protect you is suicide.

  2. Wow! I just watched the newest youtube video out presented by an attorney on this subject and was blown away to hear this idiot law. Besides the standard practice of wanting to remove all firearms from the general public, I thought in South Africa we had some stupid regulations but looking at this, ours seem pretty much logical if not tedious. Some guys were talking about Shooting Range rules that occur in the US which are totally stupid and i had commented on that to say that at least we don’t have that stupidity. If you want to shoot on rapid fire or full auto that no problem, you pick up your own brass afterwards and its your brass, you take your own ammo to the range, no problem. So, in a nutshell, besides the hoops of fire we need to leap through to get a firearm licenced and that it takes upwards of 4 to 6 months before you can take possession of your gun, our 3rd World laws seem relatively tame. Cheers guys.

    • Oh, in some states you have to go through a long and arduous vetting process that’s supposed to take three months at most, but rarely happens in less than 9. So similar here, but specifically for your first gun. After that it’s closer to reasonable.

      • Hi Red, ok, so some States have that issue too? I dont have an issue with being checked and vetted, it should be that way but our issue is mainly the absolute backlog of licence applications each and every time you apply for a new licence, renew your licences or renew your Competency certificates. The National Firearms Office is understaffed so it takes forever. Cheers

  3. It has occurred to me that of all the lame excuses the Feds give for short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, or any-other-weapon being heavily regulated, usage in high-grade felonies or “terrorism” with such has almost NEVER happened. Every time a mass shooting at a school, hotel, or any place of worship has happened, a bog-standard rifle, shotgun, or pistol was used. I have yet to see post-Depression bank robberies committed with sawed-off shotguns or black-market equivalents of M4 Carbines. And don’t even get started on the odd one-off robberies committed with anti-materiel rifles (once in a century, much?). Yes, I know I could be wrong.

    • A couple of years ago some guy shot up a grocery store in CO with a braced AR pistol. Clear evidence why nobody should be allowed to have them.
      /sarcasm

  4. the problem with removing Aows from the NFA would be things such as cryptic firearms! camera guns, cell phone guns, wallet guns, even pen, cane and umbrella guns or and common item! toys, wrenches, bolts crucifixes etc.etc. have been made into firearms to lift the nfa aow this make parts of gunshops look like hardware appliance stores with unrecognizable firearms to some extent!

    • That wouldn’t be a problem. It would be freedom observed.

      Ian, you miss the plot. It’s not that the NFA has some obsolete & non-sensical language in it – the whole point of the NFA was to restrict your Constitutional Rights by any means possible, and to continue to do so. There is no logic to ATF regulations, the NFA, the GCA, or the FOPA outside of that – those are are the infringements the Democrats could manage to get through Congress or through the rule making process at that time.

      You are suggesting there is some sort of logic behind the NFA, and that ATF has a purpose outside of oppressing Constitutional rights. They don’t, that’s their sole purpose. Individual agents may be polite, friendly even, and do you a solid under the regulations – but the regulations themselves, every gun control law, no matter how lenient, is designed to overthrow the Constitution and disarm the citizenry by a thousand cuts.

    • I just got my first AOW, a .22 stinger pen gun. Now I need to design a “Bolt action Crucifix.” See, got me thinking up wild stuff again!

  5. As a further example of barrel length issue, “Trapper” lever action carbines were sold for years with 14″ barrels. Those went out of production soon enough, but they continue to be traded as estates and families move them to new owners. One dodge around the barrel length issue was since they were mostly more than 50 years old, they were considered to have fallen under the Curios and Relics carve out for old guns considered obsolete by design.

    While not all guns more than 50 years old fall into that class, consider that the cutoff date is now 1972 – and items like early AR15s, HK91’s, FNFAL’s, AK47’s which are semi automatic could qualify. Buy one, pay the fees, ship it to YOUR HOME if you hold that license, and no law is broken. Said lists are available here: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/curios-relics

  6. This is a really interesting issue to consider. So, if I have an item that I’ve been considering making a SBR out of (whatever it is such as an AR receiver blank chunk ‘o metal, a Glock, a parts kit I have sitting around with a barrel shorter than 16″, etc.) I should go ahead and put it on my list of “pistols with a brace” and submit it to the BATF so they will go ahead and give me approval to possess the item as a SBR which I can then “remove” the brace from and install standard SBR items such as fixed/folding stocks, CAA NFA housing, etc? If so, I can see quite a volume of submissions for people applying for no-charge SBR Form 1’s as in the millions. How long will those take to process, and am I right here?

  7. Talk about Stupid and Insane Licensing Laws, be glade you do not live in New York City ! The New York City Police Dept. Licensing Division required you to ” renewal ” your licensing every three years. And every three years you must submit proof of your Date Of Birth ! They actually think that a persons Date of Birth can change over time ! They also require you to resubmit proof of your citizenship, residence ( even it it has not changed ), provide a copy of your current license( the one they issued to you 3 years prior ), and list all the weapons on your license including, Make, Model number, Type ( R or A ) Magazine size, and Serial number. Even though they have all this information since you must bring all new weapons purchased in for them to inspect the weapon when you buy it. They also require you to get approval before you but any new weapon ( a Purchase Authorization ) ! Which there is a required 90 Day wait/hold on. In fact they can, and do take as long as 6 months to process! All for someone who has gone through a complete investigation to get the License in the first place. New York City’s policy is to do all it can to keep someone from getting a weapon in the first place and to make it as Hard & Expensive as possible to kept a license ! They also require everyone to have a different License to own a Long Gun ( Rifle or Shot Gun ).

    • Hi Thomas, well it seems we are in the same sinking boat mate. All of that applies in South Africa too except licence renewal is 10 years but you have to go through all the same procedure, finger prints, piles of certified copies of all docs, photos of guns safe/strongroom, photos of the locking device on safe and also rawl bolts. Seperate Competency qualification for each type of firearm, shotgun, hand gun, rifle, bolt action or semi auto. Almost easier and certainly cheaper to buy an illegal gun on the street(cheaper too) or actually from the Police.10,000 firearms “lost” or stolen out of Police Gun safes per month!!!!!!

  8. I agree. Please, can you site where on the record this was discussed

    I’ve also heard suppressors justification is dubious. Could you educate us on that too.

  9. For decades the gun control lobby in the US was after handguns: lots of proposals to get rid of “Saturday night specials.” These were supposed to be small (easily concealable) and poorly made handguns. Of course, the legislation would have banned basically all handguns so they never got anywhere especially when the 1990’s rolled around and states started issuing concealed carry permits and thus easily concealable guns had a legit place. The gun control lobby, having totally lost the decades long war against handguns, shifted to “assault weapons,” that they had a statistically significant connection to crime, but they looked scary. And, well, they wanted to ban something. So today the media has an open invitation for mass-murderers: use the gun we want to ban, and we will bestow the fame you crave, publicize your manifesto, tell everyone your grievances, etc. And if we’re lucky we will spawn copy cats. Even for the reprehensible school shootings and such today, the fact is that not one of them would have been altered one iota if the criminal walked in with a pump shotgun or some rifles dating back to the US Civil War, versus an AR pattern rifle. On the contrary, the way many schools have locked doors during they day, a long gun would be a disadvantage to gain admittance.

    But continuing on the original gun ban focus on handguns, it always struck me that if the thing to worry about was the concealability of a handgun, then would not bolting on a stock be a really good thing? One handgun no longer concealable! Maybe big cities could hand out Target gift cards for every pistol a stock is added to. It never made a lick of sense that short barrel rifles and shotguns were legal in Canada, but not the US. Thank you for going over the tangled history of how we got here. At this point, the law is not only irrational but also counterproductive–but anything will do to beat the gun owners over the head with.

  10. “Their regulation is a waste of law enforcement’s time and a massive bureaucratic burden on individual citizens,”

    This is the actual POINT of all such legislation.

    The NFA is closely related to a bureaucratic “problem when Prohibition ended. What could be done to “redeploy” all those “revenooers”?

    Make some work for them.

    It was also a “work-arond” regarding the Second Amendment. And nary a court in the land wants to touch the reality of the phrase, “…shall NOT be infringed INFRINGED”.

    This is why BATFE is not a conventional “police force” but the armed wing of Treasury; They simply inflicted a punitive “transfer tax” on a whole bunch of goodies. $200 was a LOT of money in those days, often MUCH greater than the sale price of the hardware.

    Ayn Rand put it succinctly in “Atlas Shrugged”:

    “Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

  11. The NRA’s Karl Frederick was a traitor to the American republics. Gave FDR’s goons everything they wanted expect handguns.

  12. They tried to regulate anything they couldn’t ban, and the method was to just whip up hysteria about everything they could. No wonder the law is garbage.

  13. Right on, as usual Ian. Wasn’t about eight times the industry went to the ATF to make sure they were legal? That’s going to be a fun day in court. And wasn’t “Miller v Illinois”, when it went to the Supreme Court. “Since the military doesn’t use shotguns with barrels under 18″, they not usable by the militia, thus not covered by the 2A”? Well we have a dozen M-26 MASS, (Modular Assault Shotgun System), with 7.75″ barrels in my N.G. unit’s armory. Time to scrap the NFA and return the money for all our Tax Stamps!

  14. I don’t live in the USA and do NOT get this whole gun-rights thing.

    I’m an ex Marksman and Coach in the Australian Infantry Corps. 1970s and 80s.

    The USA is NOT under any immediate internal OR external threats. I’m not paranoid.

    Guns are deadly things. Do please stop treating them as your very-own penis-extension.

    AKA GTFUp.

    Tim B

    • You’re living in a country that voluntarily gave up its civilian-owned firearms, and was then turned into a police state by the government due to a “pandemic scare”. Or rather, that was the excuse used.

      And you do not see the connection.

      Okay.

      clear ether

      eon

      • There was NOTHING “voluntary” about it. The implicit ad EXPLICIT threats are all on record and continue to this day.

        I am also an “ex-Digger”, but I resolutely deny that “only police and military” should have guns, because, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, that way lies tyranny.

    • Frankly, you’re an idiot.

      Every single time the government has disarmed the population, it has then committed atrocities against it. The fact that your government disarmed you is a sign of what they intend; they’re not your friends, and they don’t mean well.

      Doesn’t matter where, when, or who did it, disarming the population has always been prelude to vicious oppression. Romans did it, Mongols did it, the French did it across most of their expansion areas, the Brits tried it on us at the beginning of the Revolutionary War… And, then the Commonwealth numpties walked you lot right into it. And, you fell for it, being good little subjects. Ever wonder why the same assholes who imposed those rules on us and then India wanted to impose them on you? It wasn’t for safety’s sake, because the only answer to a gun in the hands of the authorities is one in your own.

      I suspect that Jacinda Adern’s embracement with China has a lot to do with her going after the guns in New Zealand. Keep an eye out; the Chinese are very much in approval of your government’s civilian disarmament work. When the rich bastards decide to sell the rest of you to China or whatever other tyranny comes calling, there won’t be a damn thing you’ll be able to do about it. And, that’s the way they want it.

      Only a damn fool disarms himself. And, you self-identify as one. You and yours will only have rocks to throw at the slave-takers you’ve raised up against yourselves.

      The saddest thing about it is, you’re proud of the whole thing, and sneeringly dismissive of the reality that you’ve fit yourself out for chains. Ah, well… You and yours will learn. The hard way. Same as Britain did, when the Germans came calling, the last time round. They didn’t learn then, and neither did the rest of the Commonwealth. Sad, that.

      • Kirk,you nailed it. What the Aussies and Kiwi’s don’t understand is, China has already started placing sleepers in their countries in preparation to Colonise and overun them. They are going to be under Chinese rule within the next 10 years. They will be unarmed and will be totally under Chinese control. Well, good luck to those idiots.

        • I doubt it’ll be anything near as overt as a Chinese invasion. They’ll work through proxies like Adern, ‘cos the majority are too dense to pay attention to what is going on. Once they’ve got their satraps in place, then they’ll use those to control the rest. It’s actually a typically Chinese form of conquest, and one I think they’re likely to try first in Taiwan.

          Same thing is happening in Africa and anywhere that they’re falling for the “Belt and Road” swindle.

          • Hi Kirk, I live in Africa and work in Central Africa and yes are right about the road and belt swindle. One only has to look to Angola and the DRC as two examples. The chinese population numbers have quadrupled in the last 10 years as they come in and build roads as their excuse for “investing” in Africa when in reality they are here for the minerals only and in turn build inferior roads that lead mainly to mining sites. The only reason that the 500km of northern Kenya above Isiolo was tar sealed is because the Chinese are mining gold up there. The only reason roads in the DRC are upgraded and airstrips built is because of the vast illegal mining by the Chinese. They bring in their own labour which in a large part are convicts. I stand by what i said about Australia and New Zealand. Stick around and we will talk again. Cheers.

          • The one thing the Chinese need to remember… Africa always wins, in the end. Same-same with the Central Asian Republics; they sowed the whirlwind with all their cute little games that they played with the tribes in Mongolia, and got Ghengis Khan for their troubles. Don’t think that there aren’t people watching what is going on in Uyghur regions and going “That’s gonna be us, if we let this go through…”

            China has this historical habit of being a lot smarter than is really good for them; they get themselves into these situations, then find out that they’ve created a ton of enemies who hate them, and are out to screw them just because they’re Chinese. Followed by generations of Chinese subservience and failure, then resurgence: Wash, rinse, repeat…

            They whine about the whole “Opium War” deal, but the also forget the long years before that period where they treated anyone visiting and trying to trade with them with supercilious superiority, arbitrarily slaughtering anyone that the nobles or mandarins could gain profit from. The early days of trade for any of the Europeans were actually pretty damn ugly, just like things were for their neighbors. The issues with Vietnam go back to before the friggin’ Mongols, for cripe’s sake, and the Vietnamese are entirely justified (as much as history can do so…) for hating on China.

            So, yeah… In the end, the whole thing is going to cave in on them in Africa and Central Asia both. I think it’s going to be hubris and then nemesis, the same way it’s cycled before. Eventually, they’re going to piss so many of their neighbors off that the Han are going to wish they hadn’t, and there will be death and suffering galore visited tenfold upon them for their excesses in places like Xinjiang.

            History has this habit of rhyming as it continues to play out its variations. The Chinese are storing up a vast amount of hatred and drive for vengeance in their neighbors and clients. Don’t look for a vast fund of forgiveness and tolerance from any of them, on the next turn of the wheel.

      • When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
        They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
        But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
        And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

        Kipling was no fool and he trusted the British government even less than he did the rest.

        cheers

        eon

    • It’s not just about guns, though that’s the hot button issue at the moment. It’s about freedom. Americans are a free people. We are not subjects.

  15. Very informative, thank you.
    One question, what is the sight, it appears to be passably a red dot, that is mounted on the carrying handel of the SBR AR-15 you show in the video? I would like to get one for my SBR AR-15.
    Also what type of hearing protection do you use in competition and at the range?
    Best
    Carl

  16. Thank you for that history lesson about U.S. Federal gun-control law regulation of short-barreled rifles and short-barreled shotguns.

    Even though I was broadly aware of the heart of it, those interesting details about the 1936 and 1968 amendments to the NFA regulation of SBR/SBS was all new to me.

    Clearly SBR and SBS should be removed from the NFA law. The simple solution is to regulate them the same way ordinary handguns are currently regulated.

    Instead we see the American Gun-Control-Movement attempting to reclassify more and more ordinary handguns, rifles, and shotguns, into illegal NFA regulated firearms. That’s why pistol braces were reclassified as SBR in the first place. The cult of the gun-haters knows no boundaries nor fears any consequences. No action, no matter how stupid or how unjust or how counterproductive, is beyond them trying.

  17. People might be very surprised just what is illegal under U.S. Federal gun-control laws. In part because many of those laws are never enforced or rarely enforced.

    For example, did you know that under the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, is a crime for a minor to possess a handgun, except under very restricted and limited conditions? In other words, your average juvenile gang-banger commits a Federal crime every time he picks up handgun. But I’ve never heard of this law ever being enforced. I only know of the law, because I stumbled over it when reading some portions of the GCA 68.

    Can you imagine Federal jails, stuffed full of juvenile offenders of Federal gun-control laws? I’m not aware of any Federal juvenile jail facility anywhere within the United States.

    • When I began my career in law enforcement as an 18-year-old criminology student and auxiliary sheriff’s deputy, my mother had to purchase my service sidearm (a Colt MK IV/Series 70 in .45 ACP) because of my age.

      I was not allowed to buy my own until I purchased my first .357 (Colt Lawman MK III snub) three years later at age 21.

      Keep in mind that all of this was after the 26th Amendment. At age 18 I was “old enough for votin'”.

      clear ether

      eon

    • I’ve always suspected the reason is so blindingly obvious that everyone misses it.

      Look at a typical rifle with a wood stock, and then at a typical first or early second generation submachine gun. They also had wood stocks for the most part. In the case of ones like the Reising or the Erma EMP, they could easily be mistaken for a conventional rifle from a few yards away except for one thing.

      Yes. Their barrels were rarely more than a foot long.

      The “short barrel rifle” restriction was really just an extra restriction on submachine guns. Note that as early as 1930, Auto Ordnance had a semiautomatic-only version of the M1928 Thompson, identical to the selective-fire version in every respect other than not having a full-auto setting or sear. In the modern idiom, it would be defined as a “short-barreled rifle”.

      Most modern “SBRs” are either semi-auto only versions of SMGs or shortened versions of ARs. Some people call them “Walter Mitty” guns, assuming that anybody still remembers that story by James Thurber.

      One non-short-barrel rifle was banned by ATF early on, the Marlin Model 50 .22 rimfire. The reason? It was an advanced primer ignition design firing from an open bolt, like an SMG. While strictly semi-automatic, ATF believed it could be “easily” converted to full-auto. So it had to go.

      In fact the Model 50, introduced in the depths of the Depression, was probably definable as the first true “survival” rifle. It was designed with the simplest possible self-loading action so it could sell for under $20. (MSRP in ads was $16.99.) Its job was putting food on the table for poor families. Food defined as squirrels, rabbits and even birds; think bluejays. (No, I am not kidding.)

      My mother, who used a single-shot .22 of dubious lineage (the way she described it, it was probably a Quackenbush) for that exact purpose would have loved to have a Marlin 50 but at the time even 17 bucks was out of the question family budget-wise. Later, she acquired a pump-action Winchester Model 61 .22 and a Savage Model 24 .22/.410 O/U and felt she was equal to almost any hunting task in Ohio or West Virginia. (She took deer with the .410 barrel, using slug loads.)

      She defined the Winchester lever action .22s from the Model 250/255 on up to the 9422 as the kind of rifle everybody should have at least one of. Because they were faster on the second shot than just about anything else. Anybody who doubted that should have seen her with a Model 1894 .30-30.

      Her opinion was that “They’re about as fast as a self-loader in most peoples’ hands, and less likely to be banned by the government.”

      clear ether

      eon

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