The Franchi SPAS-12 is a high performance combat shotgun designed manufactured by the Italian company Franchi S.p.A..
The SPAS-12 was developed and designed during the 1970s as a law enforcement or semi-automatic military shotgun. Production of the shotgun began in October 1979. The Franchi PAS-12 can function on two distinct settings. The first setting is "automatic" (more accurately, semi automatic, self-loading) - the foregrip of the shotgun is locked forward and a unique gas system loads the next round without any additional effort from the operator. In automatic mode, the gun is capable of firing around 4 rounds per second, one round per each trigger pull. The second setting of the shotgun is pump-action - the foregrip of the weapon must be manually pumped back and forth smoothly after every shot to eject the used shell and load a fresh round from the internal magazine. Pump Action mode is mandatory to reliably fire low-pressure ammunition such as the less lethal bean bags or the more lethal tear gas rounds. Switching between firing modes on the shotgun is performed by pressing a small button under the foregrip, and sliding the foregrip slightly backwards or forwards until it clicks into position.
The SPAS-12 also has an exclusive magazine cut-off feature that, when activated, disallows the loading of a fresh round from the internal magazine when the slide is opened. This feature permits the operator to load a specialized round into the distinct chamber without emptying the entire magazine first. Early Franchi SPAS-12 models additionally featured a lever-type safety, but this feature often tended to malfunction. The lever safety was later replaced by a reliable push-button safety.
In 1983, the gun was introduced to the United States, where it was marketed as a sporting shotgun to help bypass laws that would normally label it as illegal for civilian ownership. As a result, the SPAS acronym officially stands for "Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun". However, military-oriented features like a heavy heat shield for sustained fire increase the weight of the weapon to the point where it can become unwieldy for hunting or competition shooting. For this reason, there exist popular reinterpretations of the acronym, such as "Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun" or "Special Purpose Assault Shotgun".
Legal Status in the United States
US firearm laws, in recent years, have universally blocked the importation of the SPAS-12 shotgun, because the shotgun fits under the profile of a military shotgun (which is defined as an illegal destructive device). Transfers and re-sales within the country are generally unobstructed, but few SPAS-12s are being imported from foreign countries. Additionally, in 2000 Franchi stopped production of the SPAS-12 altogether, and Franchi has since shifted its entire marketing focus towards the new and improved SPAS-15. Together, these drastic events have made the SPAS-12 a true collector's item both in the United States and abroad.