When is a Rifle a Pistol?

When is a Rifle a Pistol?

Mini-14/30 Folding Stock Rifle
Mini-14/30 Folding Stock Style Rifle
Michigan Coalition For Responsible Gun Owners
Michigan Coalition For Responsible Gun Owners

Michigan – -(Ammoland.com)- Q: I have a rifle with a folding stock. I understand that it is legal under federal law since the so-called “Assault Rifle Ban” expired in 2004. But, I’ve been told that I should register the gun as a pistol in Michigan. Is this true?

A: The answer to the question of legality under federal law depends solely on barrel length. The answer to whether a given gun is legal in Michigan is a bit more complicated.

At the federal level, the National Firearms Act (NFA), which has been around since the 1930’s, arbitrarily set the limits at 16 inches for a rifle and 18 inches for a shotgun. The reasons are lost in the mists of time. But, the law remains.

So, you are in violation of federal law if you are in possession of a rifle (with any type of shoulder stock) that has a barrel of less than 16 inches, unless you’ve applied for, and received, an appropriate tax document. (The length measurement has been construed by ATF to include any flash suppressor or muzzle brake that is permanently attached.) The same is true of any shotgun with a barrel of less than 18″.

Under the more-restrictive Michigan law, any gun with an overall length of less than 30 inches is a pistol, and must be licensed and registered (the so-called “safety inspection”). Back in 1985, then Attorney General Frank Kelly issued Opinion No. 6280 (interpreting MCL 28.419 and MCL 28.421 et seq, as well as MCL 750.224b et seq) It states that if a folding-stock weapon is capable of functioning at a length less than 30 inches, it is a pistol. This applies even though the gun may have a stock attached, and therefore would not be considered a pistol under federal law.

Furthermore, if the gun is capable of functioning at a length less than 26 inches, it is considered a “short-barreled” rifle or shotgun, even if the barrel itself meets the minimum federal length requirements under federal law as noted above. “Short-barreled” rifles and “short-barreled” shotguns are illegal in Michigan. Manufacturing, selling or possessing them is a felony punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

To sum up: The magic numbers under federal law are minimum barrel lengths of 16 inches for a rifle and 18 inches for a shotgun. The magic numbers for Michigan are overall length requirements: Under 30 inches folded, and still able to shoot, register it as a pistol. But, under no circumstances can your gun be able to operate at a length of less than 26 inches if it has any kind of shoulder stock attached to it, folded or not.

Of course, there is no minimum size for a pistol that has no shoulder stock and is properly registered as a pistol.

This information is provided by The Law Offices of Steven W. Dulan, PLC , www.StevenWDulan.com . These answers are intended as general information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice for any specific situation or case. The facts of each case vary and you should consult an attorney whenever you have specific questions.

The Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. Formed from just eight people in 1996, we now have thousands of members and numerous affiliated clubs across the state. We’re growing larger and more effective every day.

Our mission statement is: “Promoting safe use and ownership of firearms through education, litigation, and legislation” Visit: www.mcrgo.org

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Howdy i live in suffolk co ny. Does a buntline with a 18″ barrel need to be registered as a pistol on my license


Mike, According to the letter of the law, you most certainly can. The statutes use the same definition of pistol in both places, so what qualifies as a pistol under Michigan law (less than 30 inches) is allowed to be carried with a CPL. Interestingly, there is no statute that specifically makes carrying a concealed rifle illegal; however, the letter of the law states that you may not carry any "dangerous weapon", and there has been no legal precedent set as to whether or not a rifle is a dangerous weapon under that statute. A pistol is not a dangerous… Read more »


My question is if you have a rifle with a barrel over 16" but length (w/ stock folded) under 30" but over 26",(ex. FNH SCAR) that is registered as a pistol in MI, and you have a CPL, can you legally conceal the said rifle? I am more interested in being able to keep it loaded and transporting it inside the car, then wearing it under a coat or something ridiculous like that.