How Shotguns Work

Shotgun Laws

Although there are laws in the United States about purchasing, selling, using and carrying shotguns, these are actually less regulated than most types of guns. Gun-related activity is regulated by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF). Here are some of the federal laws that apply to shotguns:

  • Buying restrictions: Certain classes of people are not allowed to purchase shotguns. This includes felons, fugitives, minors under 18, the mentally ill, dishonorable discharges from the armed forces, those under a court order and perpetrators of domestic violence.
  • Selling restrictions: Sellers must have a federal firearms license or sell through a dealer with a license. They must be licensed by several federal agencies, including the BATF and the Department of Justice. Shotgun sales must be documented with federal form 4473, which maintains the purchaser's information and the gun's serial number. These laws do not apply to antique firearms.
  • Short-barreled shotguns: The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 makes it illegal to own shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches in length unless they are specifically registered as such with the federal government.

States also have their own firearms laws, which can include waiting periods before purchase, separate registration requirements and bans. See NRA-ILA: Compendium of State Firearms Laws for a general reference to the gun laws in each U.S. state.


For more information on shotguns and related topics, check out the links below.

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