Legal Lengths of Shotguns and Rifles in the United States

Many people might go down to their local gun store or a neighborhood gun show and assume that each and every weapon there is ready to be taken home. Whether it be bolt action rifles or a lever action shotgun, you think that you can fill out some paperwork and take it home with you. If you buy a secondhand weapon, you can run into the issue of purchasing a weapon that has been modified to standards not adhering to those set down by the government of the United States. Before you go out searching for rifles and shotguns for sale, let’s take a look at one of the most important things you ought to know before making any firearm purchase: the length of the gun.


There are many things to keep in mind when you consider shotgun and rifle lengths in the United States. You want to keep these in mind because you want to stay within the laws of the country. Other areas around the world have different regulations than the U.S., and sometimes what is acceptable or unacceptable there is not the case here. This includes both the overall lengths and the barrel lengths. A major reason that these regulations are in place is to help classify the type of firearm. By enforcing and standardizing these measurements, there is a particular category that all weapons will fall into. Most often this is used to make the distinction between short barreled shotguns (SBS) and short barreled rifles (SBR).

The law has regulated that a shotgun barrel length must be at least 18” long, while the entire gun must be at least 26”. A specific procedure must be used to define the actual barrel length. The barrel measurements are taken by closing the bolt and running a tape measure down the barrel to the face of the closed bolt. If you are unsure of where the closed bolt is, you can run a rod down the barrel until it stops, make a mark on the rod, and then measure the rod once you pull it back out of the barrel. The ATF uses micrometers to measure the length of the barrel.

Many factory length barrels start at 18½” to make sure that they meet these regulations on their shotguns. Keep in mind that when you purchase a new weapon and it says 22” barrel, there is a possibility that it is only a 21½” barrel, because manufacturers will round up. For rifles, that number decreases to only a 16” barrel. The length of the weapon must still be at least 26”. This becomes a little tricky for rifles that can fold the stock in. If the weapon can be fired while the stock is folded, then the length of the weapon when folded must be at least 26”. If the weapon becomes incapable of firing once the stock is folded, then the weapon can be less than 26” and still classified as a rifle.

As a side note, to check if a barrel has been shortened, simply take a dime and see if it will fit down the barrel. If the choke is still there, the dime will catch at the end of the barrel. If the choke has been sawed off, the dime will be able to continue down the barrel unimpeded. For those of you wanting to perform modifications modifications, it’s a good idea to keep your shotgun barrels to at least 18 ½” to give yourself a little leeway.

If you do decide to shorten your weapon, be aware that you will need to register it as an SBS or SBR, which comes with a $200 tax stamp. So if you have a weapon that is only worth about $100-$150, you are going to pay that additional cost just to make it legal. If you don’t do that, you can get into some complications that aren’t worth your time or the headache associated with them.

When you want to find some of the best lever action rifles or semi-automatic rifles, your best bet is to search for firearms online. Sites such as GrabAGun.com offer many brands that come manufactured to U.S. standards. You will not have to question whether or not you bought a weapon secondhand that you will have to pay an additional charge on just so you can legally own it.

When you buy guns online with GrabAGun.com you have the opportunity to find such items as the Mossberg 500. This tactical pump-action shotgun is a prime example of some of the quality shotguns for sale that they offer. They have many rifles and shotguns that can accommodate a variety of uses, whether it be home defense, hunting, or sport shooting. They also offer a wide variety of accessories to help outfit your Mossberg the way you want so you don’t need to try your hand at home weapon modification. When you buy guns online, especially with GrabAGun.com, you have all of the information in front of you on the website, so there is little confusion as to what you are buying. So when you want to purchase your next rifle or shotgun, keep these standards in mind, and trust a retailer like GrabAGun.com to be your source for your next firearm.

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