A fantastic May to our handsome followers! Continuing our blog restart campaign, the next two posts will be the first new collaborative work between Mr. Shane and myself. Here’s hoping these ones actually get finished!
As we were batting around ideas, a thought came up: public edumacation! No, not the taxpayer-funded variety – more like an elaborate (but arguable useless) public service announcement, though its length seems to put it a bit outside the realm of “announcement.” Either way, considering this blog’s emphasis on popular culture, media, and things that go bang (giggity), we thought it appropriate to shed some light on a cornerstone of action cinema and shooter games – namely, the ubiquitous SPAS-12 shotgun. This first post will go into the real-world weapon’s history and operation, while my esteemed co-conspirator will follow up with an analysis of the weapon’s depiction in film, television, and video games. So, let’s get started!
Before becoming a Hollywood icon, our subject began life in 1979. Envisioned, designed, and manufactured by Franchi S.p.A. (pronounced Frahn-kee) in Italy, it was a cutting-edge weapon for its time. It was chambered in 12 gauge, weighed in at 8.75lbs, sported a 22″ barrel and 41″ overall length with the stock extended, and had an 8+1 magazine tube capacity.
Beating the famous Benelli company by a few years, the SPAS-12 was intended for use as a semi-automatic combat shotgun for use primarily by law enforcement. Semi-automatic shotguns were nothing new by 1979 – the first one, John Browning’s Auto-5, was designed in 1898 and patented in 1900. What set the SPAS-12 apart from basically every other repeating shotgun then-made was its ability to function in both semi-automatic AND pump-action modes. As it stands, it can be safely assumed that every modern police force that utilizes 12 gauge shotguns also uses conventional buckshot ammunition that retains sufficient discharge pressure to reliably and consistently cycle the action of most any modern autoloading shotgun. With that in mind, semi-automatic was to be the assumed default method of operation by users.
That said, however, almost every police force in the world that utilizes 12 gauge shotguns also utilize less-lethal ammunition types for suspect compliance and riot control purposes. The only caveat to less-lethal rounds (in this sense, at least) was their almost universal tendency to discharge at significantly lower pressures than did their lethal counterparts – this meant pump-action shotguns were the only platform capable of employing them. Rather than deal with training officers on two separate types of weapons and deal with the higher cost of maintaining those two platforms, most every agency opted to simply stick with the tried-and-true pump-action Remington 870s, Winchester 1200s, and Ithaca Model 37s, among a few others.
To cut down on training and maintenance costs while maximizing versatility, Franchi designed the SPAS-12 to be capable of operating on semi-automatic or pump-action at the flick of a switch (and ammunition changeover as necessary), enabling the deployment of less-lethal munitions for riot control, as well as semi-automatic fire superiority in regular deadly force engagements, all without the need for two separate guns.
Along with its cornerstone feature, the SPAS-12 was also ahead of the curve in a number of other respects. It featured a pistol-style grip with a mounting point to attach its folding metal stock. The stock was capable of being folded over the top of the weapon for ease of transportation (or close combat, in rare cases), and extended back for conventional employment. It was also capable of attaching an under-arm hook to the shoulder-plate section of the stock, allowing the SPAS-12 to be wielded with one hand (a feature that surprisingly worked fairly well, according to users). The entire folding stock could also be removed if need be, and some later models replaced the folding stock & pistol grip combo with a single-piece fixed stock and pistol grip pairing.
There were a lot of good things to be said for the weapon, but it wasn’t without a drawback or two. Its twin-operation capability came at the cost of the weapon being unable to chamber 3″ magnum ammunition, only accepting standard 2 3/4″ shells. The operation of the gun between operating methods could also prove somewhat of a problem (arguably). To cycle the action of semi-automatic shotguns, the ejection port almost always sports a charging handle built-in to the bolt of the weapon for manual inspection, loading & unloading, and jam clearing. Pump-action shotguns need no such charging handle, as the pump action already serves that exact purpose. To ensure consistency with the manual of arms of each mode of operation, the SPAS-12 is equipped both with an ejection port charging handle and a conventional pump action. The catch to this setup was that once, for instance, semi-auto mode was engaged, the ejection port handle would function normally, but the conventional pump would be locked in place. Likewise, when set to pump-action, the conventional pump would cycle normally, but the ejection-port handle would be locked in place. While the difference in operation should already have been ingrained in users during training, in the heat of the moment, the potential existed for users to actuate the wrong action, and struggle with what they think is a serious malfunction until they come around or someone points it out to them. Again, rarely an issue, but the potential did exist, just as it does with every other dual-function shotgun manufactured since then.
With that, I will turn things over to the care of my associate, who will follow up this post with one on the media depictions of this gun. Heads up – it’s gonna hurt.
The depictions. Not Shane’s writing. Totally not Shane’s writing.
Just read it.