Luigi Franchi SPAS: A Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun from Italy

Eric Sof

The Luigi Franchi SPAS shotgun is an interesting firearm because it is a combat dual-mode shotgun. It means that the user can switch between a semi-automatic mode (for firing full-power rounds like buckshot or slugs) and a pump-action mode (for firing weaker rounds like beanbags or birdshot). It first appeared in 1979, and since then, it has appeared in countless movies and games.

Introduction

Luigi Franchi is well-known for sporting shotguns of the highest quality, but their SPAS (Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun) series will be less famous outside Italy. It was designed for police and military use and aims to be slightly more efficient in that role than conventional civil shotguns, which were designed with sporting use in mind and have been ‘misappropriated’ to police use.

The firm claims that their design gives good accuracy with little training; instant hits in all kinds of employment; incredible firepower; the ability to launch grenades if required; and low maintenance.

United States Federal Assault Weapons Ban

The appearance and intended purpose of the SPAS-12 initially led to its “military” designation as a combat shotgun. The SPAS-12 was designed from the ground up as a rugged military shotgun, and it was named the Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun. In 1990, Franchi renamed the shotgun Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun, which allowed continued sales to the United States as a limited-magazine-capacity, fixed-stock model until 1994.

Following the United States Federal Assault Weapons Ban, Luigi Franchi stopped imports of SPAS-12 shotguns to the United States. In September 2004, the ban expired, but Franchi had ended the SPAS-12 in 2000 to focus on manufacturing the SPAS-15 model.

Design

The basic SPAS Model 11 is a short-barrelled semi-automatic shotgun with a folding butt that has been configured to be locked under the armpit and allow the gun to be used one-handed. The receiver is of light alloy, while the barrel and gas cylinder has been hard-chromed to reduce the risk of corrosion.

All the external surfaces are sand-blasted and phosphate black. An unusual provision is for the gas cylinder to be shut off, converting the weapon to a slide-action repeater; the fore-end can be unlocked to act as the reloading slide in this mode, which is designed for use with certain types of light ammunition which will not cycle the gas action reliably.

The barrel is cylinder bored and spreads an average shot charge to about 900 mm at 40 meters, reducing precise aiming. The automatic action will fire about four shots per second, and at this rate of fire, with standard buckshot loadings, it is possible to put 48 pellets per second into a one-meter-square target at 40 meters range. The pellets have about 50 percent more striking energy than a .32 pistol bullet at this range.

A wide range of ammunition is available for security use, from buckshot and solid slug to tear gas rounds that fire a small plastic container of CS gas to 150 meters range. There is a launching attachment that fits the muzzle and which permits the firing of grenades to 150m range, and there is also a ‘shot spreader’ attachment which works on the muzzle and breaks up the shot pattern to give much greater short-range spread, an option designed for indoor use.

Users

In terms of law enforcement and military use, which was the shotgun’s intended purpose, the high cost and little benefit provided over offerings from companies like Remington, Mossberg, and Benelli meant this shotgun found only a small amount of use in niche areas, mainly with counter-terrorist organizations.

In terms of the US civilian market, by far the largest civilian market for combat shotguns, this firearm was met with poor sales, primarily due to cost, design flaws, and strong government opposition. The SPAS-12’s original importation began in 1982 but was stopped in 1989 due to various government bans targeting this particular weapon, claiming it needed to have a “sporting purpose” to be allowed importation. This ban ended up bankrupting the original importers of the SPAS-12.

Variants

Franchi SPAS-11

It was the first Luigi Franchi SPAS shotgun that appeared in October 1979. It was declared a riot shotgun with a 900 mm folded length, a 500 mm barrel, and weighed 3.2 kg.

Luigi Franchi SPAS-11 shotgun
Luigi Franchi SPAS-11 shotgun (Photo: XY)

Franchi SPAS-12

The finish on the SPAS-12 is matte black; the shotgun comes with a black pistol-grip stock and extended magazine, making it an ideal off-the-shelf combat weapon. The shotgun is (was) slated for release in the United States in early 1987 and will be (was) marketed by FIE.

Luigi Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun
Luigi Franchi SPAS-12 (Photo: XY)

SAS-12

The SAS-12 was a pump-action only.

Luigi Franchi SAS-12 shotgun
Luigi Franchi SAS-12 shotgun (Photo: XY)

LAW-12

The LAW-12 was semi-automatic only. The Franchi LAW-12 was developed from the SPAS-12. The new firearm appears to be one of the major contenders on the semi-auto combat-shotgun market. Its gas operation (to minimize recoil), lightweight, and wide range of accessories available for it also promise to help it gain quick acceptance among those needing such a weapon.

Luigi Franchi LAW-12
Luigi Franchi LAW-12 (Photo: XY)

Franchi SPAS-14

The Franchi SPAS-14 was a prototype described as a SPAS-12 with a box magazine.

Franchi SPAS-15

The original Franchi SPAS-12 was based on an old Franchi shotgun receiver. Franchi designed a new gun in the SPAS15, keeping many SPAS-12 features such as a selectable pump or semi-auto operation. They added new features such as the pistol grip safety. And most noticeable of all, it had a stacked detachable magazine instead of the standard tubular feed.

Luigi Franchi SPAS-15 shotgun
Luigi Franchi SPAS-15 (Photo: Luigi FranchI)

Others

There have been some other less known variants such as:

  • PA3/345
  • PA3/215
  • PA3 Compact
  • Franchi SPAS-97

Technical specifications

Manufacturer: Luigi Franchi SpA, 1-25020 Fornaci, Italy
Type: automatic, combat-type
Gauge: 12
Barrel: 18.11 in (460 mm)
Weight: 8.05 lbs (3.65 kg)
Magazine capacity: Eight rounds

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2 thoughts on “Luigi Franchi SPAS: A Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun from Italy”

  1. I want one the first one, but if I had to guess it probably costs 5000 or more mainly because it is automatic. Actually thinking about that it’s probably more! Automic guns are always very expensive also usually illegal to own without the proper licenses, just like having to have one to own//use a suppressor.