April 17, 2020
By David Codrea
“Technically not a rifle, pistol, or shotgun, firearms which fit into this niche have been legal for quite some time, but it wasn’t until 2017 when Mossberg dared to wade in with their Shockwave that they entered the public consciousness, and since then they’ve become quite a hot market segment,” James Tarr, well-known gun writer at Firearms News, reported in the Feb. 2020 issue.
It’s that “quite some time” I’d like to explore.
To refresh what I’m talking about, and as I wrote in 2015, “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ classification of pistol grip only firearms with 14-inch barrels that fire shotgun shells and are over 26 inches in overall length as neither ‘shotguns’ nor National Firearms Act ‘Destructive Devices’ or ‘Any Other Weapons’ has created a situation wherein the agency must either quietly save face or have it exposed that untold numbers of good faith gun owners currently legally possess firearms problematic for the government to allow.”
While it was indeed a dare to invest in what some perceive to be a “loophole” product, especially noting the way ATF routinely rewrites the rules to cover earlier determinations that suddenly prove to be political liabilities, it’s an earlier dare I think it only appropriate to explore. I’m referring to the initial development by my friend and colleague in numerous Freedom of Information Act requests and legal actions, Len Savage, President of Historic Arms, LLC.
I first learned about such devices from ATF’s November 2009 FFL Newsletter on “Pistol Grips and Shotguns,” which in turn cited a February 1999 FFL Newsletter on “Shotguns with Pistol Grips Attached.” The discussion had been going on since 2010 on CleanUpATF, the website run by disillusioned agents fed up with bureau waste, abuse, corruption and fraud, and the place where allegations of “gun-walking” that would develop into the Operation Fast and Furious scandal first surfaced. Attorney David T. Hardy then called attention to the speculative discussions on his Of Arms and the Law blog.
Years later, Shockwave Technologies posted an article on its website titled The 14″ Mossberg 500 That ISN’T NFA!:
“More on the subject is available in these two letters to Len Savage—the guy who will be making a lot of these non-NFA firearms in the coming months and years,” the article states, providing links showing Firearms Technology Branch responses to Savage’s inquiries from 2010 that allowed him to take the risks to develop and produce a proven and legal solution in full compliance with ATF rules (the following documents can be found at July 20, 2010 letter from NFA Tech Branch to Mr. Len Savage
October 27, 2010 letter from NFA Tech Branch to Mr. Len Savage Page 1 of third letter Page 2 of third letter Page 1 of fourth letter Page 2 of fourth letter
Savage provided a copy of his initial request letter to the Firearms Technology Branch from February 25, 2010, that shows, in his words, “I sort of baited them...I laid it on. They obliged and I was never supposed to give it to everybody. They were just itching to put one on me and it is clear I was supposed enter production and get "spontaneously" reclassified meaning economically and legally curb stomped.
“Everybody got a little piece of freedom on that deal and all I had to do was give it away,” Savage explains. “The thing is had I tried to cash in on it I would have been steam rolled, crushed and broken financially if not physically.”
The deserved trolling was pretty obvious in the way Savage’s letter laid out the logical and legal contradictions ATF had made, all the while thanking them “for this wonderful business opportunity.”
“Since it is not neither a rifle nor a shotgun, is it not lawful for it to have a barrel length of less than 18 inches and an overall length of less than 26 inches?” Savage asked. “And NOT be considered a firearm under the NFA? After all, since they were never shotguns, how could they be 'short barreled shotguns’?”
“Should you choose to classify such a firearm as ‘Any other Weapon’ under CFR 479.11 the firearms mentioned in the ATF article also have smooth bore and do fire a fixed shotgun shell,” he reminded them. “They are also just as capable of being ‘concealed on the person’ as my proposed modified version would be, after all we are just talking a couple of inches of barrel. Making such a classification would appear most arbitrary and capricious given the facts at hand.”
“Should you choose to classify such a firearm as a ‘Destructive Device’ under CFR 479.11 the firearms mentioned in the ATF article also have a barrel diameter of greater than one half inch (12 gauge being approximately .69 inches),” Savage continued, revealing how TF had closed the door on that alternative as well. “The Destructive Device definition does exempt shotguns, however since the firearms described in the article are neither rifles nor shotguns ... I would remind you, I would NOT be changing bore diameter of the firearm that is neither a rifle nor a shotgun mentioned in the article. Making such a classification would appear most arbitrary and capricious given the facts at hand.”
I bring all this up because, while we see credit being abundantly assigned to famous firearms brands we all know, the little guy innovators who bring us so much in terms to new developments and the initiative it took to make them happen are often overlooked and forgotten. While the ability to prosper at their craft is the ultimate measure for incentive, nothing quite demotivates like doing something creative and unique and seeing someone else get all the recognition.
I’m probably more sensitive to that than most, having, along with my colleague the late Mike Vanderboegh, broken and comprehensively reported on Fast and Furious for months before it finally “entered the public consciousness” when CBS News picked up on the story. Sure, professional interests are involved, but seeing Mike die of cancer unrecognized and near broke outside a niche of hard-core activists is what I will always resent the most. It’s not “sour grapes” because he and I were ultimately after the truth, and appreciated the groundbreaking revelations and ability to take things further that only a bigger entity could have achieved—kind of like how Mossberg was able to build upon Savage’s earlier work.
“Marty Ewer used to own Shockwave Industries.” Savage explains. “I gave Marty my letter as he was making a birds head grip so that a factory 14" barrel could be purchased and installed legally. He later sold the trade name shockwave to Mossberg and retired.”
“For what it’s worth, I also approached Mossberg and was rebuffed,” Savage adds. “I posted the letters on several gun boards and gave it to anyone who wanted to make them.”
Historic Arms, LLC developed the first firearm taking advantage of “the rules” and received the first ATF approval. All I ask is that we don’t forget Len Savage’s contribution and his name.
About David Codrea:
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. In addition to being a regular featured contributor for Firearms Newsand AmmoLand Shooting Sports News, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts onTwitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.