I recently went to my local gun shop to do a firearms transfer, and while there, I glanced up and saw a shotgun that immediately caught my eye.
It was a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun with an odd-looking pistol grip and a barrel that was clearly shorter than the ATF’s required 18-inch length. Traditionally, this type of weapon would be considered an AOW (Any Other Weapon) under the National Firearms Act (NFA), which is used to regulate weapons and accessories such as short-barreled rifles, suppressors and other similar items. This requires the buyer to purchase a tax stamp from the ATF and be subjected to a lengthy background check and waiting process before they can take ownership of it.
However, when I inquired about it to the shop’s owner, I was surprised to discover that this was NOT the case – the weapon is legal to own for any person 21 years of age or older who passes a standard background check, with no tax stamp or enhanced waiting period required. When I asked about this, I was informed that the ATF had recently determined that this particular firearm did not meet the criteria required to categorize it as an AOW under the NFA.
Technically, a shotgun is defined as a smooth-bore weapon designed to be fired from the shoulder; with a pistol grip installed straight from the factory, it does not meet this definition. Consequently, if it isn’t legally a “shotgun,” it cannot be classified as a “short-barreled shotgun,” either. According to the ATF’s finding letter to Mossberg (dated March 2, 2017), this new shotgun is classified as simply a “firearm” under the Gun Control Act (GCA), and has the following features:
- 26 1/2 inches overall length.
- 12-gauge, 14-7/16 smooth-bore barrel.
- “Bird’s head” grip from factory (never had a shoulder stock attached).
- 5-shell magazine capacity.
This firearm is essentially treated as a pistol, although most gun shops will treat it with even more care, not wanting to run afoul with the ATF on such a complicated issue. The shop I went to requires you to be 21 years old to even handle it in the shop. I was also informed that because state laws can be more restrictive on what firearms are permitted, it is not legal in all states.
I can confirm that Washington State does not restrict ownership of this weapon; if you live outside of Washington State, you will want to check with your local gun shop to find out if it is legal to own in your state. It is also important to note that the Mossberg 590 Shockwave’s classification is entirely dependent on its configuration from the factory – any modifications to it, such as changing the pistol grip or adding a shoulder stock, will take it right back to NFA territory … and land you in some serious hot water with the ATF. Consequently, once you buy one, don’t modify it.
In terms of practical application, the 590 Shockwave makes an excellent home defense weapon. Its shorter overall length makes room-clearing in your home much easier. However, because it is a 12-gauge shotgun with a shorter than normal barrel and no shoulder stock, it’s going to have a serious amount of recoil.
You will probably want to consider buying low-recoil ammunition, or short-length shells. Aguila makes mini-shells that take up less space in the magazine, increasing the capacity to eight shells instead of the standard five. While these shells are known to have issues feeding reliably, Mossberg has a nifty solution for that problem: the OPSol Mini-Clip. Installing this drop-in accessory will dramatically improve the feeding issues with mini-shells.
Have you ever handled a Mossberg 590 Shockwave? Would you want to own one? Share your thoughts on this weapon in the section below:
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