Are Sawed Off Shotguns Illegal?

While there are a lot of debates about guns in the US right now, we can all agree that some guns are necessary in certain situations.

Farmers and other rural communities often have a necessity for certain types of guns for either their livelihood or their survival, due to their remote locations and lack of ability to get certain types of services.

Are Sawed Off Shotguns Illegal?

Most farmers will have or carry a shogun when on the farm, as a weapon of choice. This is mostly due to the number of threats that a huge area of fertile land with a number of expensive equipment on it has to face, while being far away from help.

A shotgun is perfect for this situation, as it is loud enough to scare away coyotes, wolves, bears, foxes, and nefarious people, and its short range means that it is only likely to be used when a situation has taken a turn for the worse and the farmer needs to defend themselves.

So, shotguns are a perfectly legal and legitimate weapon, but what about sawed off shotguns? Aren’t they illegal?

And if so, why? In this article, we seek to answer these questions regarding the legality of sawed off shotguns.

What Are Sawed Off Shotguns?

Sawed off shotguns are shotguns that have a shortened barrel that is generally under 18 inches in length.

Despite the name, not all sawed off (or sawn off) shotguns are modified after they have been made, instead a number of them are made to factory specifications with a barrel that is short.

When they are modified, it is normally with intent. The sawing off process reduces the overall length or barrel length of the weapon, which, in turn, makes it easier to conceal.

As you can imagine, this concealment, along with its historical reputation, means that many people have a fear and wariness of the weapon.

Apart from their shorter length, sawed off shotguns are usually not too different from other shotguns.

The design and purpose of a shotgun are the same regardless of its length, and most of the time the only real difference between the two weapons is that sawed offs have a much shorter range.

Are Sawed Off Shotguns Illegal?

This section is going to have a few big ‘if’ statements about the legality of sawed offs, so make sure to read it thoroughly.

In the United States federal laws, sawed off shotguns are legal to own if you live in the United States, IF you have a tax-paid registration with the ATF (the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).

This registration requires a thorough background check and either $200 straight up or a $5 tax for every transfer needed for the particular shotgun.

However, many states have laws that ban ownership of these shotguns with a risk of criminal charges should you have one.

While the law may protect you federally if you go through the right channels, most states do not want sawed off shotguns being handled by the public.

If they do allow for sawed offs, then remember, that each of these states will have strict regulations on getting your hands on one.

Also, modifying your existing shotgun into a sawed off would be classed as an illegal modification. So, it’s best to just go through the legal way to get them.

What Makes Sawed Off Shotguns So Dangerous?

What Makes Sawed Off Shotguns So Dangerous?

They may not seem as dangerous as other weapons that are perfectly legal, but they can be more dangerous in some circumstances.

For one, sawed off shotguns have a short barrel length, which makes it easy for the owner to conceal the weapon.

This is especially dangerous if the weapon is used to commit a crime and can be a real threat considering the power of a shotgun.

The short barrel length makes it easy for criminals to conceal a sawed off shotgun after the crime as well, making it harder to catch and stop them next time.

This could pose a serious danger to any nearby individuals, due to our next point.

They lack accuracy. Shotguns are incredibly powerful weapons that spread buckshot and damage over a certain area.

This area is decided by the size and length of the barrel. A longer barrel means less spread and a more contained area, giving more control to the shooter.

Sawed off shotguns have a much smaller barrel than regular shotguns. This increases their spread to a very wide and large area, a short distance in front of them.

The person with the sawed off doesn’t have control over where the buckshot is going and so, when the gun is fired, it could injure anyone nearby.

As such, when a person carries sawed off shotguns, they increase the risk of injuring themselves or bystanders as well as law enforcement officers, through just the act of firing.

Such powerful weapons can kill easily, and many innocent people have been unintentionally killed accidentally due to someone firing the weapon.

Due to their power and easy concealment, they are regularly used for murders and hits by criminal enterprises.

La Cosa Nostra, or the Italian Mafia, favor the weapon and their use of it has caused the fear of sawed offs that we see today.


There’s no doubt sawed off shotguns are dangerous weapons. These types of shotguns are often used by criminals because they are easy to conceal and pose serious danger to nearby individuals.

This is why sawed off shotguns are illegal in many states and why you should avoid using them if possible.

Honestly, a regular shotgun will be fine for most purposes that you plan to use the sawed off for.

This doesn’t mean sawed offs are illegal. While they are more heavily regulated than other weapons – and with good reason – it is still possible to legally own one.

Just remember, that you need to adhere to the federal and your state’s laws before buying one and that you should always be careful when using it.  

Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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