When is a rifle a pistol?

| September 30, 2015 | 8 Comments

While concealed carry is usually abbreviated CCW for Concealed Carry Weapon, there are very few states that allow rifles or shotguns. These permits should be called CCH or CCP, but I believe the term CCW is so common that’s how people refer to any permit.

So, if permits only cover pistols, how can you legally carry an SBR or SBS in a bag or loaded in your car?

Check the definition of “pistol” or “handgun” in your state’s legal code.

Firearms are typically defined by states according to features such as:

  • Overall length
  • Smooth or rifled barrel
  • Magazine capacity
  • Integrated or detachable magazine
  • How the firearm is discharged
  • Grip
  • If it’s designed to be shot with one or two hands
  • Barrel length

The last two are the most important for today’s discussion.

Most states define a handgun as a firearm with a rifled barrel that was designed to be fired with one hand. If this is the only criteria in your state, you will probably not be able to carry on your permit.

Here’s North Carolina’s:

(2)        Handgun. – A firearm that has a short stock and is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand.

However, some states have additional criteria for a handgun, such as barrel length.

Here is New Hampshire’s:

159:1 Definition. – Pistol or revolver, as used herein, means any firearm with barrel less than 16 inches in length.

My state (Minnesota) is more complicated:

“Pistol” includes a weapon designed to be fired by the use of a single hand and with an overall length less than 26 inches, or having a barrel or barrels of a length less than 18 inches in the case of a shotgun or having a barrel of a length less than 16 inches in the case of a rifle (1) from which may be fired or ejected one or more solid projectiles by means of a cartridge or shell or by the action of an explosive or the igniting of flammable or explosive substances; or (2) for which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, air or other gas, or vapor. — (Emphasis mine. Shepherd).

There’s some argument about how the Minnesota statue is structured and what it means. The statute could have been written more clearly, but that’s for another post.

Different states define firearms differently. It is possible that the federal government defines your firearm as a rifle, whereas your state defines it as a pistol.

This does not remove your duty to register an SBR or SBS as an NFA item with the ATF. If you don’t know what those four acronyms mean, you should do more research before deciding what to do in your state. 😉


Does your state consider both of these firearms as pistols?

Legal Disclaimer

I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Please consult with a legal professional should you have questions about the definition of firearms in your state.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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8 Comments on "When is a rifle a pistol?"

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  1. David says:

    Maryland has a similar definition of “gun with barrel < 16"" for transport purposes. You could, theoretically, conceal carry or even open carry an SBR if you had an unrestricted permit, but we're may issue, so the cops would just yank your permit.

  2. J.C. says:

    Here’s North Dakota’s definition of handgun according to Title 62.1, Definitions 62.1-01-01, 6: “Handgun” means any firearm that is not designed to be fired from the shoulder, which has a barrel less than sixteen inches [40.64 centimeters] long, and which is capable of firing, by the energy of an explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge, an exposed projectile through a rifled bore. The term includes all firearms that are designed to be readily modified between rifle and pistol forms, if in compliance with the National Firearms Act
    [26 U.S.C. 5801-5872].

    So while SBR/SBS are both considered rifles/shotguns here (they even have their own definitions in 62.01-01-01, 11 & 13), North Dakota has a CWL (Concealed Weapon License) which is for firearms and dangerous weapons, so concealed carry of SBR/SBS is covered along with being able to conceal carry a variety of other items (martial arts weapons, larger bladed items, Tasers, bazookas & cannons (they are listed in the definition of a firearm in 62.01-01-01, 3))

    link to 62.1-01: http://www.legis.nd.gov/cencode/t62-1c01.pdf?20150803121117

  3. wilsonhines says:

    You’re right about NC. In reference to my comments regarding the different types of permits on the other post, NC doesn’t allow the concealment of anything but a pistol, so I keep my AR pistol with me. The officer that I spoke of in those comments and I had a conversation about all of that this morning and I actually brought my stuff out in the parking lot and showed him what I have and we talked about the regulations. He also confirmed my suspicion that most of the deputies couldn’t tell you what an NFA item was and what they need to ask for. He is also the XO of the SWAT team for our county. He said that he knew the regs, but most of the others would not. He also said that if he saw something that he thought was an NFA item “in the wild” he wouldn’t ask for the stamp and documentation, he would run the serial. The serial would have the stamp info. In 15 years of being a deputy, he’s only seen an NFA item twice, he only felt the need to run the serial on one item and it was legit.

  4. wilsonhines says:

    A follow up to my comments on concealing an SBR versus a AR/AK pistol in NC.

    Since I commented on September 30th, I have had a couple conversations regarding this with two local LEO’s, two Sheriff’s, and a State Trooper. All were unanimous in slightly correcting me. You can have the SBR in the bag in the car, as long as it is in the back seat or the trunk. It is considered “stored.” If you want it in the front seat, it needs to be uncovered.

    If you get out of the car and want to sling the backpack with the SBR while you walk, that would be illegal, technically, since it is not a pistol. With that being said, all agreed that whether or not they got picky on this point was all about the person (attitude, mouth, overall situation, etc.) and of course whether or not they had a CCW (or however you desire to designate it). In other words, are you a jerk or are you looking for trouble?

    I hope this helps.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Does NC allow you to “store” that firearm loaded? It is not legal to have a loaded long gun in the car here. :\

  5. Evan L. says:

    To be clear, the Minnesota statutes against carrying a long gun in public are also specifically overridden if you have a carry permitas well, so there is the two pronged aspect to it in our great state.


    The relevant part: (b) “Carry” does not include: (3) the carrying of a BB gun, rifle, or shotgun by a person who has a permit under section 624.714;

  6. van der lin says:

    FL has a “weapons” permit, not a handgun permit. In the statues, however, weapons is defined as a “handgun, knife, billie…”

    What I would like to know is if carrying a suppressor is prohibited. there is no telling really.

  7. B R KURTZ B R KURTZ says:

    I really dont think it matters, unless the police are SIGNIFICANTLY better informed than the ones I work with, chances are they wont “know”, and they surely wont be able to articulate the difference when you show them your NFA paperwork. The problem is that they over react. Youre likely to be sitting on the side of the road OR in the back of a police care OR at the station while they find an “expert” that tells them what they want to hear–notice I said what they want to hear NOT what the LAW says.

    Ive seen far too many abuses that end with, “Well we’ll let the court figure it out” to wanna dance to that tune. The best suggestion I can offer is, 1. Have the number of an attorney knowledgeable in firearms law handy. 2. KNOW your rights, Know when to turn on the video, and Know when to shut up 3. Finally Concealed means CONCEALED.

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