Ahead Of Its Time: The Retro Classic Franchi LAW 12 Scattergun

The author recently picked up a classic Franchi LAW 12 shotgun and was extremely impressed by how far ahead of its time it was.

The Terminator, a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, hefted the Franchi SPAS 12 to his shoulder, mapping the details of the weapon’s weight and balance within his neural net CPU for later use. Among the unnaturally broad selection available at the Southern California gun shop that day, the deadly machine had selected an Armalite AR-18, an Israeli Uzi, a stainless steel longslide 1911, and this Italian 12-gauge shotgun. The shopkeeper asked which of the weapons the cyborg might like and he flatly responded, “All.”

Thrilled at the breadth of the pending sale, the gun shop proprietor began his recitation concerning gun laws and waiting periods. Before the man could react, the Terminator slipped a 12-gauge round into the shotgun and blew him away. Walking out with all four weapons, the Terminator continued his mission to hunt down and kill Sarah Connor, the mother of the man who would someday save the world.

If you have never seen the classic James Cameron epic The Terminator then carefully step away from your computer, make yourself some popcorn, and fire it up. You can likely stream the film on Amazon. I also wouldn’t admit to your guy friends that you haven’t seen it yet. Such an admission will cost you your Man Card in the sorts of places I frequent.

The Franchi LAW 12 was an underappreciated gem of a shotgun back in the 1980s when it was originally imported. Regularly upstaged by its uglier cousin the SPAS 12, the LAW 12 was the markedly better weapon.

The SPAS 12 made famous in The Terminator could not hold a candle to its sibling the LAW 12, according to the author. Image courtesy of MGM.

The guys behind The Terminator chose the Franchi SPAS 12 for the same reasons dozens of other moviemakers have chosen the gun. SPAS is short for Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun, and this novel Italian scattergun was produced from 1979 until 2000. The SPAS 12 offered a user-selectable action between pump and semi-automatic and looked like, well, something the Terminator would carry.

The lamentable reality, however, is that the SPAS 12 was heavy, bulky, and awkward. The folding stock looked cool, but its raw steel buttplate was pitiless with full power rounds. Additionally, the dual-mode action was a neat gimmick but really just offered extra weight and more stuff to break. While the cumbersome SPAS 12 died a natural death around the turn of the millennium, its cousin the LAW 12 was a prescient piece of iron indeed. I traded out of my old LAW 12 a couple decades ago but recently found another one and righted that past wrong.

The Quick Employment Safety was located on the left front aspect of the trigger guard and consisted of a simple sheet metal tab. The trigger finger easily pressed this appendage clear when entering the trigger space.


  • Chambering: 12 gauge, 2¾ inch
  • Barrel: 21.5 inches
  • OA Length: 41.5 inches
  • Weight: 7.3 pounds
  • Stock: Pistol gripped buttstock
  • Sights: Brass bead front
  • Action: Gas-operated semi-auto
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 8+1
  • MSRP: N/A

The LAW 12 retained all that was good and wholesome about the SPAS 12 while dispensing with the fluff. Where the SPAS 12 was clunky, fat, and ugly, the LAW 12 was svelte, sleek, and lethal. Introduced alongside the SPAS 12, both the LAW and SPAS shotguns fell victim to the executive order banning military-style weapons under Bush the First.

The LAW 12 incorporates two different manual safety systems. The travel safety is located on the right front aspect of the trigger guard. Early guns sported a rotating lever. Later versions were simple pushbutton crossbolts.

The LAW 12 is a gas-operated semi-automatic 12-gauge designed specifically for military, law enforcement, and civilian defensive applications. The action is more ammo tolerant than most semi-automatic shotguns, and the gun’s ergonomics are indeed exceptional. Eschewing the pump action feature of the SPAS 12 dropped 1.35 pounds off of the LAW 12’s weight. I’m not really a shotgun guy, and I have always loved the LAW 12.

The LAW 12 sported several remarkable features. For instance, there were two separate manual safeties. The first was what the manufacturer called a travel safety. This was a lever mechanism located on the right front aspect of the trigger guard. Rotate the lever away from you and the gun will be capable of firing. Rotate it back and the gun is on safe. Later models exchanged the lever for a more conventional pushbutton.

There was also a unique Quick Employment Safety (QES) located within the trigger guard on the left. This stamped steel component operated in the manner of the safety of an M1 Garand rifle. With the travel safety off and a round in the chamber the QES may be moved rearward to disconnect the trigger completely. Once the trigger finger was within the trigger guard the QES snapped forward and restored the gun to firing condition. This made the weapon remarkably fast in action.

The barrel of the LAW 12 is threaded externally for a choke.

There was also a magazine disconnect device that served to lock the rounds in the magazine when the bolt was manually cycled. This allowed the operator to manually feed less-than-lethal loads one at a time as the tactical situation dictated. This feature was designed specifically for LE and military applications.

The LAW 12 accepted any of the standard stock options available to the SPAS 12 family of shotguns. Solid polymer pistol grip stocks and steel folders were the most common, though Choate did produce a run of roughly 180 unique stocks for this gun. Most of the LAW 12 shotguns in this country sported polymer pistol grip stocks. The combination of a generous pistol grip and a robust wide buttplate helped the gun manage heavy loads well.

The muzzle of the LAW 12 was externally threaded for the same chokes used by the SPAS 12. To exchange chokes one simply spins off the old choke and threads on a different one. Literally, nothing could be simpler.

Laying Down the LAW

I am and always have been a pretty skinny guy. I shoot a lot, but that shooting experience can either be fun or it can be work. Frequently the line demarcating the two can indeed be fine.

I am man enough to admit that an assignment to do an article on some new lightweight 12-bore typically elicits a groan. Birdshot is OK, but a dozen or so slug or full-power buckshot loads typically peg the funmeter for an afternoon’s shooting excursion. In the case of the LAW 12, however, the gun is actually exceptionally sweet.

The LAW 12’s gas-operated action is ammo tolerant and smooth. Sporting 8+1 onboard, the LAW 12 will run through 12-gauge shells as fast as you can cycle the trigger.

My current LAW 12 is old, and it was gummy on the inside when I bought it. That made the first trip to the range a bit underwhelming. However, a little attention with some Hurley’s Gold Composite Gun Lube loosened everything up and got the old girl back in the game easily enough. Once subjected to such affection the LAW 12 ran fast and well.

Reloading is a pain, but reloading any tube-fed shotgun is a pain. You have to run the rounds into the bottom of the gun one at a time, and there’s just no fun way to do that. However, the LAW 12 holds a total of nine rounds onboard so at least you don’t have to do it very often.

I think the secret to the LAW 12’s manageable recoil impulse lies predominantly within its gas-operated action. The LAW 12 is exceptionally smooth, allowing rapid follow up shots with minimal muzzle rise. Occasionally the last round in the magazine will lodge in the ejection port after firing a string of cheap birdshot, but the gun really runs well since I lubricated it a bit. My LAW 12 patterns appropriately for defensive purposes and drops my slugs pretty much where I want them. The combination of the gas-operated action and the beefy pistol grip stock make shooting heavy loads a much nicer experience than might otherwise be the case.

Ahead of its Time

Alas, the LAW 12 shotgun was too much too soon. In the mid 1980s, the American gun community was really just trying to find itself. Back in those heady days there weren’t but about seven of us in the whole country who were into black rifles, and we seven had never met. The Internet was but a gleam in a young Al Gore’s eye, so there wasn’t the ready exchange of ideas that we so take for granted these days. Any combat-themed gun competition would have been immediately decried as the very physical manifestation of evil insensate.

Three 1-ounce slug rounds fired offhand at fifteen meters printed this mostly contiguous group. The extra holes come from the wads.

Buckshot out of the LAW 12’s 21.5-inch barrel stays pretty close to a pie plate at fifteen meters.

At reasonable close combat ranges birdshot can actually be quite formidable. This pattern printed from fifteen meters offhand.

Now fast forward a few decades and the most remarkable thing has occurred. Thanks to the most anti-gun President in American history there are actually now as many as 30 million black rifles in American civilian hands. That’s one for roughly every ten adult Americans. What was once a topic of conversation reserved for the shadows around the periphery of the gun show is now proper water cooler fare from sea to shining sea. While tactical training and competitions of varying stripes have become commonplace in much of the country, it is 3-gun matches that best exemplify the state of the art.

In a nutshell, 3-gun competition challenges a shooter to master the vagaries of three different weapon systems. While souped-up rifles and handguns based upon various more pedestrian chassis have arisen to fill the needs of modern competitors, tricked out shotguns have perhaps been a bit slower to catch on. It turns out the absolute ideal 3-gun shotgun actually came about some thirty years too soon.

The LAW 12 really is optimized for competition and combat. Even giving the market some three decades to evolve, you would be hard-pressed to find a better 3-gun chassis today in my opinion (apart from the difficulty in installing a modern red dot). The weapon’s superlative mechanics take the teeth out of 12-bore recoil.

The author liked the fast-handling characteristics and light weight of the LAW 12 and found that it was surprisingly soft recoiling.


I’ve been shot at once, and I didn’t like it. Nobody in his or her right mind covets armed conflict. However, the art of running a gun through a simulated combat scenario can be invigorating, recreational, and fun. It’s good exercise, and the subsequent eye-hand coordination makes you better at most everything else as well. For those who feel up to pitting themselves against others, the pressure of the clock and the demands for precision can be powerful motivators. Additionally, should you actually find yourself in the suck such skills could come in mighty handy.

Although dating from the 1980s, the LAW 12 would be right at home today in a self-defense or 3-Gun role.

The Franchi LAW 12 was always the redheaded stepchild of the family. Upstaged by its sexier brother and never quite as popular as a result, the LAW 12 was actually the better of the two guns in my opinion. These cool old scatterguns remain available on the used gun market, still at a fraction of the cost of the uglier sibling. If properly maintained this classic shotgun can hold its own even today.

For more information on Franchi’s current offerings, click this link: http://www.franchiusa.com/.

To purchase a Franchi shotgun on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Franchi.

About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • KLEMOD October 3, 2018, 11:30 pm

    This article states that Bush 1 implemented the assault weapon ban that affected the SPAS-12 and Law-12 imports. It was actually Clinton that signed this bill into law in 1994, as he was in office when that ban started. But I digress .. I bought the SPAS back in the day for 700 bucks [dealer cost] and love it! I still have it to this day. May look into getting a LAW-12 as well … as this gun functions even better and is more practical as a tactical weapon as the article touches on.

  • Craig June 12, 2017, 2:47 am

    I actually still have my LAW-12, and to be honest, it’s probably had a total of 50 rounds through it since I purchased it new. I’ve always found it won’t reliably eject light or low-brass loads, but perhaps that’s not a surprise. It just never clicked with me, so it sits in the back of the safe. I was once told by a Franchi rep that the forcing cone could be relieved to aid in reliability, but before I sent it in for work the AW ban kicked in, and I decided that I would be risking losing it if I sent it anywhere. I’m now unsure whether to sell it or to try to try to get it to accept a broader range of shells. Thoughts?

  • Sanders May 23, 2017, 2:27 pm

    I had a SPAS12 back in the day. It had the solid pistol grip stock instead of the folder.
    From the first time I shot it, I didn’t like it. The plastic buffer in the back of the receiver fell out of its place and jammed everything up. I glued it back in place, then went out into the desert to try it again, but it just never clicked with me. Plus, it only liked factory ammo. My reloads were just far enough out of spec, they didn’t work very well in it – even though the Remington M11 ate them well enough. The pump guns are a given, as they’ll eat most anything. I wound up trading it off during the height of the AW ban, when auction sites, gun blue books, etc., said it was worth around $1,200. Took a brand new Springfield Loaded Model 1911A1 for it, and still think I got the best end of the deal.

    I never gave the LAW12 a chance because I figured it would be as picky as the SPAS12. If I run across one, maybe it will follow me home..

  • ryan May 22, 2017, 11:43 pm

    Had one back then – fastest shooting shotgun I ever owned. Only reason I let it go was because it would only chamber 2 3/4″ shells. Now that I cringe at 3″ ammo I’ll be trying to find another one of these.

  • Steve Day May 22, 2017, 2:02 am

    I fired a SPAS 12 back in 1996/97, just before the UK gun ban. It was incredibly soft shooting even with slugs (and very accurate too) … meanwhile a Mossberg pump-action beat the crap out of my shoulder till it was purple & green.

    If I ever bought a shotty it would definitely be a semi-auto over a pump-action.

  • Bill May 19, 2017, 8:54 am

    I was surprised you didn’t mention the other member of the Spas Law 12 family, the pump action only model. I bought mine back in the late 80’s and never thought once about getting rid of it. I had planned buying a Mossberg Mariner but when I saw that Law 12 I fell in love with it. Probably one of the best reasons for that is there is no rattle like most pump shotguns. You can shake it and it doesn’t alert the neighborhood with that typical pump action “battle rattle”. It is very smooth to feed and much lighter than the movie star dual action model most people have seen.

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