Can You Change the Barrel Length of an Short-Barreled Rifle/Shotgun (SBR/SBS)?

Frequently, clients will inquire of whether he/she can change the barrel length of a short-barreled rifle or shotgun (SBR or SBS), after receiving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) approval of his/her Form 1 or Form 4 on which a specific barrel length listed.

18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(8) provides, “The term “short-barreled rifle” means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches” and Section 921(a)(6) provides, “The term “short-barreled shotgun” means a shotgun having one or more barrels less than eighteen inches in length and any weapon made from a shotgun (whether by alteration, modification or otherwise) if such a weapon as modified has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.” Similarly, the National Firearms Act, in essence, defines it the same way in 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a), although it is broken down slightly different.

Accordingly, the law concerns itself with barrel length being under 16″ for a rifle and under 18″ for a shotgun or an overall length under 26″ for either a rifle or shotgun. Once registered as a SBR or SBS, the actual length is somewhat immaterial, as it has already been registered, as required by law, as an SBR or SBS. Furthermore, the ATF has previously issued a determination that an individual may turn an SBR or SBS back into a normal Title I gun, without need for notifying the ATF. Hence, after registering a SBR or SBS, you may change the barrel length to some other length still constituting an SBR/SBS, such as changing it from a 14.5″ barrel to an 11.5″ barrel, without violating the law and you may lawfully change the barrel length making it no longer an NFA firearm, such as changing it from a 14.5″ barrel to a 20″ barrel, without violating the law.

The one exception to the above is where the caliber is also being changed, whereby the firearm would now constitute a destructive device. Section 5845(f)(2) defines one type of a destructive device as “any type of weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes.” Accordingly, if you were modifying a 50 Caliber SBR into a 20mm SBR, you would be in violation of the law to make such a firearm, if you did not receive the approval of ATF, registering the intended firearm as a destructive device (Destructive Devices trump Short-Barreled Rifles/Shotguns).

Hopefully this will clarify the issue of whether you may change the barrel length of your SBR/SBS.

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4 Comments

Filed under ATF, Firearms Law

4 responses to “Can You Change the Barrel Length of an Short-Barreled Rifle/Shotgun (SBR/SBS)?

  1. Fantastic write up.. Very well done. Thank you

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  2. Sam

    Thank you for the clarification on this. Many times I’ve heard that once it’s registered with specific size that you can’t go any shorter than that but can go longer. And to go shorter would be illegal.

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  3. JAG2955

    Could you put a short rifled barrel on a legal Short Barreled Shotgun as long as you are not changing the caliber?

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  4. Chria Farina

    The way I’m reading this you can change the barrel length of a previously Form 1 SBR and you can change the caliber as long as the new caliber is not greater than 1/2″. For example you could switch from a 14″ 5.56 barrel to an 11″ 7.62 barrel. Is this correct?

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