Any Other Weapon (AOW): The NFA Catch-All

Even the most experienced “stamp collectors” can be missing the coveted $5 red stamp. While making and transferring National Firearms Act (NFA) controlled items like Short Barreled Rifles (SBRs), Short Barreled Shotguns (SBSs), Silencers and Destructive Devices (DDs) require all the requisite BATFE paperwork AND $200, the price to transfer Any Other Weapons (AOWs) is only $5. But is an AOW really a bargain?

A ShoRT BARrel FOR Five dollars? I’M In!

Slow down, skippy. The tax paid to TRANSFER an AOW is only five dollars. However, if you want to MAKE an AOW, the normal $200 NFA tax applies.

What is an AOW anyway? Let’s discuss.

NOTICE: The legal waters surrounding the National Firearms Act are treacherous. This article is not intended to be a guidebook and I am not your guide. You are responsible for knowing all your local, state and federal laws before embarking on any NFA adventures.

ATF’s definition of an AOW:


Any Other Weapon”

26 U.S.C. § 5845(E)

For the purposes of the National Firearms Act, the term “Any Other Weapon” means:

  • Any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive;
  • A pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell;
  • Weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading; and
  • Any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire.
  • Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.

Other relevant legal definitions:

18 U.S. Code § 921 – Definitions

(3) The term “firearm” means (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.

(5) The term “shotgun” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.

(6) 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.

(7) The term “rifle” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.

(8) 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.

Clear as mud, right? I’ll try to explain.

Any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive.

Here’s where AOW’s actually get their name; the above statement includes any device that fires a bullet or shot that is not a pistol, shotgun or rifle. Buttstock with a rifled bore? RIFLE. Buttstock with a smooth bore? SHOTGUN. Designed to be fired with one hand? PISTOL. Not in one of those categories? AOW.

And remember, once a rifle or a shotgun, always a rifle or a shotgun.* Meaning you can’t turn your AR15 rifle into a pistol (no stock) with a short barrel (less than 16″ long). You will need to register it as SBR, whether or not it has a stock or not.

*Pistols that started life as a pistol, can be turned into a rifle and back to a pistol as long as the rules of the NFA are followed. 2011 ATF Ruling Here.


Case in point, the ATF defines a pistol as ‘designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand’. So, if you were to add a vertical fore grip to a pistol, legally it is no longer a pistol*. It’s an AOW because it is now designed to be fired with TWO hands.**

**As long as the pistol has an overall length (OAL) of 26″, adding a VFG does not change its status to an AOW.

I know, confusing right? Son of a…

Example – Adding a VFG to this pistol makes it an AOW.


Yes. This is an AOW.

Similarly, a shotgun is legally defined as a firearm with a shoulder stock and a barrel with a smooth bore. A shotgun with a shoulder stock and a barrel with a length less than 18″ is an SBS. However, a 12 gauge pump action with a pistol grip instead of a shoulder stock and a barrel shorter than 18″ is an AOW***, provided it didn’t start its life as a shotgun. What does it mean to “not start life as a shotgun”? Simple: It must have never had a shoulder stock.

***If the OAL is 26″ or more, it’s a ‘Pistol Grip Only’ and not an AOW or Shotgun.

Crystal clear? G*ddamn it!

AOW example, the Serbu Super Shorty:


Serbu Super Shorty – AOW

Everything else, if not defined as a rifle, shotgun, pistol or destructive device is an AOW. Here are some unique examples:


Pen Gun. Credit: James D. Julia auctioneers.


Knife gun.


Phone Gun



Wallet Gun


Flashlight Gun


Cane Gun


Palm Gun




Credit: ATF

There is also a smaller segment of AOW’s that include firearms that have combination shotgun/rifle barrels with an overall barrel length more than 12″ but less than 18″ and a shoulder stock option.



POP QuIZ HOTSHOT. Classify the following firearms:











1. Pistol (The Taurus Judge has a rifled barrel)
2. Pistol (An angled foregrip is not the same as a VFG)
3. “Pistol Grip Only” (The OAL is over 26″ but no shoulder stock – NOT a shotgun or AOW). *if factory configuration
4. Firearm (VFG and the OAL is over 26″) *if factory configuration.
5. Unknown (If it started life as a shotgun, it’s an SBS; otherwise AOW)

Here’s the deal: At the time the NFA was created, modular weapons with two-pin upper receivers, railed forends and pistol stabilizing braces didn’t exist. These ancient laws and regulations are probably the most confusing and misunderstood in the firearms world. So it is probably best if we go ahead a repeal them.

For now, here’s my two-cents worth of advice:

  1. If you want something like the Serbu Super Shorty pictured above, pay the $5 to have an AOW transferred to you.
  2. If you have a shotgun that you want to make into a Serbu-type weapon, spend the $200 to make a SBS and build whatever configuration you wish. (Making an AOW costs $200; you might as well go the SBS route at this point.)
  3. If you want a pen gun or cane gun, spend the $5 to have one transferred to you.

When all else fails, consider a new hobby. I hear watercolors are a satisfying way to express your artistic emotions – just paint all the guns you want. It’s the only way to make sure you are complying with all of the arcane US gun laws – especially those concerning AOWs.

Thanks to BigWaylon for the fact check.


LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Twitter: @gunboxready
Instagram: @tfb_pete


  • PeterK

    Merciful heaven what a mess.

    It’s interesting you can vfg a long “pistol”. Will have to remember that.

  • DW

    IIRC, 4th is also “just a firearm”, because OAL is over 26″, has no stock, has a forward grip, and has barrel of less than 16″ – which can’t be classified as a SBR, pistol, and AOW.
    Franklin armory pulled that off with their XO-26

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Agreed. Thanks.

    • George

      …but in California a barrel of < 16" makes it a pistol and therefore an assault pistol.

      Why they ship with BB now I think.

      But same setip with 16.25" bbl and it's neither a pistol nor rifle per California law therefore "firearm" and can detach mag all you want…

    • Cory C

      Wow. Good catch.

  • WindlassArmory

    Number 3 may be a shotgun if pistol grip installed by user, unless shipped from the manufacturer as pistol grip only (unknown by just a picture). Number 4 is classified as simply a “firearm” with a length over 26″ and designed to be fired with two hands, not a pistol.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Agreed. Thanks. In my head, the shotgun came from the factory like that and the AR was a pistol first with a longer barrel and VFG added. I’ll clarify.

      • DanGoodShot

        Heres one for ya. Hypothetical of course. Lets say “a friend” buys a stripped ar lower. Friend first builds it as a pistol. But on paper it was purchased as a stripped reciver.
        That Friend has 3 uppers for it.

        1st upper: 9″ 300 blackout with angle hand rest. = pistol with sig brace.

        2nd upper: 14.5″ 5.56 cal. With vertical grip. OAL 26″+ = firearm with sig brace.

        3rd upper 21″ .223 match barrel. Brace removed, buttstock goes on.= rifle.
        No nfa needed.
        Lesson of the day… start with a stripped lower?

        • Billy Jack

          Within the confines of ATF interpretation. Seems fine as long as Other was selected on the 4473 rather than pistol or rifle. From my understanding, what you designate it upon transfer is what it is. Pistols are pistols, rifles are rifles and other means you can decide later and don’t have to declare it.

        • Pete – TFB Writer

          Yup. All doable legally it seems. Except for the ‘shouldering’ issue.

  • CS

    Shall not be infringed. Damn it.

  • David Silverstein

    This is exactly why I have no interest in getting into the modification game until NFA is repealed. Most police and conservation agents don’t know these laws and, even knowing the laws, they would have to make some assumptions regarding the original form of your gun to even enforce the laws. I find it all too probable that you would just be arrested and your gun confiscated until the police were able to get the ATF involved. Even then, you’d just have to hope that the ATF sided with you instead of making a new ruling.

    • Bill

      Actually, we do know the applicable state and local statutes (particularly the conservation cops/trout troopers/duck dicks; they deal with guns daily) and operating a tape measure is covered in the Academy.

      • RocketScientist

        awwwww, someone get their feewings hurt??

        • Bill

          Not at all, it’s not that complicated.

      • David Silverstein

        Many do. Many don’t. Regardless, unless you know the original form of the gun, you can’t know whether it’s been modified in a way that requires NFA paperwork. For example, if you see an AR-15 pistol build, do you assume it’s an AR-15 pistol or a Short Barreled Rifle? You can’t know. There is no way to know.

        • Bill

          More importantly, why would I care? If I find an AR pistol at a homicide scene I’ll run it for records, and I guess I won’t know for sure if its legal, but in that context it may not matter. If I find 15 of them at a meth lab I’ll probably let the ATF know as a courtesy and investigative lead. If I find somebody target shooting with one in the woods I’ll probably do nothing, assuming that there aren’t prohibitions against doing so otherwise.

          Everyone seems to know a guy whose uncle was on a softball team with a fellow whose ex-wife heard a story about a guy getting busted on a weapons violation, but when you look at actual cases that’s incredibly rare. Gun cases are almost always ancillary to other criminal activity. The only reason I don’t say always is because I don’t say “Always” or “never.”

          • David Silverstein

            “Why would I care?” It’s the difference between legal gun possession and felony possession of an unregistered Title 2 weapon. “Why would I care?” Good policework, buddy. You act as though you’ll only see a gun after a violent crime’s been committed. I’ve been pulled over for speeding on my way to the shooting range. When the officer asked if I had any weapons in the vehicle, I told him yes. He wanted to see what I had. Would he know the difference between NFA and not? Maybe, maybe not. But I suspect he would at least care.

          • Bill

            You just proved my point: our contact with firearms typically comes after the commission of a crime or violation. You were speeding, which brings me into contact with a gun. Now I care. You have an AR pistol, a type of which I own several. If there isn’t any record of you being under a firearms disability and it’s being transported in compliance with applicable laws, I don’t have probable cause to pursue any further investigation, now I don’t care.

            That is the definition of good police work.

            BTW, every sales rep I’ve dealt with has an issued ID card when they are transporting NFA weapons. I’d imagine that any normal human transporting such would have the same or equivalent paperwork.

          • David Silverstein

            So, in the scenario described above, you would just assume it to be a legal AR pistol. Point made. You wouldn’t be able to identify an NFA item if you tried.

          • Bill

            Why would I not assume that? There’s a little thing called the Constitution that prevents me from going on fishing trips when it comes to evidence. As is pretty clear, many NFA firearms are easily identified with advanced technology like a tape measure or Mark One Mod 0 eyeball. I was successfully able to “identify” a NFA weapon when some knuckleheads were jacklighting deer using a Marlin .22 with a Mountain Dew bottle taped to the muzzle. But again, they got a (state) weapons charge because they were first involved in other criminal activity. And the ATF was never involved, and would laugh if I tried to get them to make a federal case out of that “home-made suppressor.”

            You aren’t making much sense: you seem to be convinced that you’d be arrested just by having a NFA weapon, legal or not, when I’m trying to point out that it takes a lot more than just that to get arrested. If only people who used drugs illegally were so easily swayed….

          • HSR47

            “You just proved my point: our contact with firearms typically comes after the commission of a crime or violation.”

            This is largely true. There was even a SCOTUS case a few years back on the “straw purchase issue” that came up that way: Abramski was searched in connection with another investigation, and that search turned up evidence of a separate statutory violation. The original investigation apparently didn’t end up panning out, but what they found on the search is what they ended up nailing him with.

            For reference, Abramski v. U.S. was the case where Abramski, a VA resident with police credentials, recieved payment by check from a relative in PA that he could use along with his police credentials to get a blue-label Glock pistol. Abramski received the check, bought the pistol from an FFL in VA, and then transported it to PA where it was then transferred via an FFL to his relative. The federal courts agreed with the government that he answered the “are you the buyer” question falsely, and that he therefore committed a crime.

            I certainly don’t agree with their decision, but it certainly at least partially contributes to the argument you were making.

            That said, what David is saying also has at least some merit:

            With guns in “pistol” livery (i.e. barrel under 16″, OAL under 26″, and no provision to be shouldered), their legal status hinges on how they were first assembled, as SCOTUS decided in the Thompson Contender case(s): The definitions of “rifle/shotgun” and “pistol” in the CFR are what matter here: To make a long story short, if you take a rifle that was originally assembled as a rifle and then later assemble it in a “pistol” configuration, the CFR defines it to be a Title II firearm requiring registration as an SBR/SBS — It’s “made from a rifle/shotgun” and it has a barrel length under 16/18″ and/or an OAL under 26″. On the other side of the coin, you could take those very same parts and put them on a virgin stripped receiver and you’d have a Title I pistol (or a Title II AOW in the case of a non-rifled barrel).

            David’s point is that this pretty much requires the police on the ground to be psychic.

          • Bill

            And my point is that without reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been committed I am very limited in what investigative steps I can take. I also have to prioritize my activities – I’m not going to see someone with an AR pistol shooting at a DNR range and decide to literally open a felony/federal case trying to determine if it started life as a pistol, rifle or stripped receiver when I’ve got calls pending, agricultural equipment theft and domestic violence cases to follow up on; cases that have far more impact on my community.

            Theoretically, following his logic to the absolute extreme, if I can’t clearly see the selector switch on an AR during any type of encounter, I could assume that it’s a NFA weapon. I can’t even clearly see them on the wall in a gunshop – should I assume that they are all M4s/M16s? I don’t think so.

          • HSR47

            My point, and his, is that the applicable law (both statutory and administrative) is an absolute mess in need of reform.

            The fact that the status quo allows for there to be a legal distinction between two functionally identical firearms based on how each was originally assembled is utter lunacy, and must be corrected.

            While YOU acknowledge that it isn’t worth your time to worry about it, you don’t speak for all persons in the position to make an issue of it.

          • Bill

            What gets my personal panties in a bunch is the barrel length conundrum: why 16 for a rifle and 18 for a shotgun? Whazzup witdat? How about 17 for both?

    • claymore

      Not true.

    • kingghidorah

      Repealed? Ha, that’s a good one.

    • jamezb

      That’s why your paperwork always needs to travel with the gun. Any questions from police or conservation can be quickly put aside with your NFA papers.

      • David Silverstein

        There’s not NFA paperwork if it’s a modification that doesn’t make the gun an NFA item.

  • Harry’s Holsters

    Now if I can just find a mad max or el dorado shotgun that classifies as an AOW.

  • Bradley

    So was my stripped lower manufactured as a pistol or a rifle? At best that’s a completely unenforceable gray area.

    Interesting side note. Czechpoint has been selling vz58 “pistols” for a while now. If I’m not mistaken they claim that they use the same receivers and just cap off the butt stock threads. They claimed that they had atf approval for this.

  • JoeDeke

    The early prototype Bondhus “palm pistol” pictured is not an AOW, it is a handgun.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      I don’t think they ever got a clarification from ATF that it was indeed a pistol.

  • MattTN

    There is an upside to making making an AOW over an SBS. There are interstate transport requirements for DDs, MGs, SBRs, and SBSs. This does not apply to AOWs or silencers. So there is a reason to consider spending $200 to make an AOW. Especially if what you want isn’t available for purchase.

  • I’m surprised that nobody has successfully petitioned the ATF to classify the Game Getter as a non-NFA curio or relic. Trapper Carbines and several stripes of vintage, stocked European pistols have been removed.

  • Huaba Sepp

    That Flashlight Gun looks like a really bad idea.

  • Disarmed in CA

    What? Watercolors? I suppose I could shoot at those?

  • Kevin Craig

    While NFA arms are MG, DD, silencer, SBR, SBS, or AOW, non-NFA firearms are Rifle, Shotgun, Pistol, or “Other Firearm”.

  • Audie Bakerson

    ” It’s the only way to make sure you are complying with all of the arcane US gun laws – especially those concerning AOWs.”

    There’s option 3: Bug your congressman and keep bugging him till he introduced a law to repeal the NFA.

    They say they’ll “pass it on”? Keep calling. Ask what his response was.
    They say “he’s for the second amendment”? Keep calling. If he really was he’d have introduced it by now.
    His staff give their opinion? Keep calling. They aren’t members of congress.

    Thank receptionists by name (“Thank you mr./mrs. uh…”) and remember who they are.

  • Just Askin’

    Dumb question: I bought a stripped Spikes AR lower a few years ago from an FFL. When I got it home I noticed the serial number started with the letters “SBR”. I built it up into a M4-like carbine w/16″ barrel. Does that serial number have ANY bearing on what I can do with it? I’m guessing not….

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Nope. The serial number has no bearing. But that particular model of lower has caused headaches when people try and Form 1 those lowers. The ATF examiners questioned some serial numbers. Best to include a picture of the lower and serial number if SBRing it.

  • Retriever222
    • xtphreak


    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Great. Just great. Now i see it.

      • jamezb

        kinda mummified lookin. Is this king tut’s missing member?

    • xtphreak

      ok, now I see what you’re referring to …
      still appears to be a gloved finger to me
      I think your perception of reality is somewhat colored by a fixation with sex, but hey …. I’m not a shrink, and I never played one on TV, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night so whatever you see …..
      you see

  • noob

    That flashlight gun seems designed to break all four safety rules, and the user’s braincase.

  • David Harmon

    I’m with you on this, the NFA has to go. All it’s done is cause some people to get thrown into prison for whatever the ATF felt like saying was legal at that moment.