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March 23, 2023

The SPAS 12 Shotgun

By Joe Engesser

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Whether you know the SPAS 12 from Terminator, Jurassic Park, or the shotgun’s inclusion in countless video games over the last two decades, the Franchi SPAS 12 has become one of the world’s most famous gun models. Primarily designed as a close combat weapon for military and law enforcement use, the SPAS 12 shotgun’s large heat shield, metallic folding stock, and distinctive butt hook give the gun a unique profile that stands out in any firearms collection.

A Spas 12 shotgun for sale this June at Rock Island Auction Company.

The Franchi SPAS 12 Shotgun

The SPAS 12 was manufactured in 1979 by the Italian company Luigi Franchi as a special-purpose automatic shotgun. Franchi’s SPAS 12 design was inspired in part by the High Standard Model 10, an American-made 12 gauge semi-auto bullpup shotgun developed in the late 1950s to be either shoulder-fired or fired one-handed with the swiveling buttstock braced against the bicep of the shooting arm. Like its SPAS 12 successor, the intention was to provide law enforcement and Special Forces with a versatile tactical shotgun.

The SPAS 12 shotgun had a predecessor in the High Standard Model 10.

The Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun was released two years after the High Standard Model 10 was discontinued in 1977. Marketed to police and military forces in Europe and America, the SPAS 12 offered a dual-mode shotgun design that allowed its users to choose either manual pump action or gas-operated semi-automatic at the touch of a button. This provided the operator with the option of high-speed stopping power running buck or slug in semi-automatic mode and the ability to switch back to pump when a situation called for a less lethal round and their lighter load cartridges.

The Franchi SPAS 12, a dual-mode shotgun that can quickly shift between pump and semi-automatic modes.

Some of the more prominent SPAS 12 adopters included the French GIGN and Austrian EKO COBRA counter-terrorism units, Brazil’s Special Tactical Action Group, Malaysia's National Special Operations Force (NSOF), Indonesia's Komando Pasukan Katak underwater demolition units, and select U.S. SWAT Teams.

The SPAS 12's metal folding arm and hook are two of the shotgun's defining features.

What Does SPAS 12 Stand For?

The SPAS 12 was initially called the “Special Purpose Automatic Shotgun,” with the 12 referring to the weapon’s 12 gauge chambering. The SPAS 12 was soon offered to civilians as a sporting arm as well, where the exact same model was relabeled as the “Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun.”

A SPAS 12 with its original box, labeled "Sporting Automatic Shotgun." This example sold for $5,750 in RIAC's December 2021 Premier Auction.

After California passed a 1989 import ban that classified the SPAS 12 as an assault weapon, Franchi introduced a modified version of the SPAS 12 to the American market in 1990 with a solid traditionally shaped stock and a smaller capacity, which also took on the designation of “Sporting Purpose Automatic Shotgun.”

A SPAS 12 with a fixed stock (top) and a SPAS 12 with a metal folding stock (bottom.)

The Jurassic Park SPAS 12

For many firearms fans and movie buffs, their first exposure to the SPAS 12 came from blockbuster films like 1984’s ‘Terminator’ and 1993’s ‘Jurassic Park.’ The Jurassic Park SPAS 12 shotgun was carried by game-warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) and included the model’s original lever safety and a latching-style folding stock, though without the famous butt hook attachment.

A "Clever girl." The Jurassic Park SPAS 12 has become one of the most famous movie guns.

The SPAS 12 has been notably featured in many other films, including ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Bad Boys,’ and ‘Robocop 3,’ as well as popular shows like ‘Miami Vice’ and 'The Walking Dead.' Today, the SPAS 12  shotgun continues to earn recognition with video game fans as well thanks to its inclusion in hits like ‘Half Life,’ ‘Modern Warfare 2,’ ‘F.E.A.R.,’ ‘Left 4 Dead 2,’ ‘Ghost Recon: Wildlands,’ and ‘Dino Crisis.’

A SPAS 12 for sale that features the iconic hooked folding stock.

The SPAS 12 Action

The SPAS 12 can switch between pump action and semi-automatic mode by pressing the auto/manual fire selector button on the bottom of the forend and sliding the forend (forward for semi-automatic and back for pump action). The SPAS 12 shotgun’s tube magazine can hold up to eight 12 gauge shells. Full-power shells can be fired in either action mode, but Franchi advised users to switch to pump action mode when shooting less lethal rounds like beanbags or low-velocity birdshot that didn’t provide enough pressure to cycle the gun.

The Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun can fire everything from buckshot, slugs, and door breaching rounds to low-powered non-lethal shells for riot control.

The Franchi SPAS 12 user manual states: “When firing in PUMP MODE you can use any kind of 2 3/4' shell from the lightest target load to the heaviest buckshot, rifled slug, and magnum loads. However, when firing in SEMIAUTOMATIC MODE you must use loads that provide sufficient energy to ensure reliable operation.”

The SPAS 12 Hook and Folding Stock

Along with its metal folding stock and large heat shield, the SPAS 12 butt hook is one of the most defining features of the shotgun. When the stock is folded to the top of the receiver the hook can be used as a carrying handle. While certainly a convenient feature, the real reason the SPAS 12 hook is so popular is the one-handed shooting options it provides.

A SPAS 12 for sale this April 5th at Rock Island Auction Company.

The SPAS 12 manual describes the process as follows: “For one-hand firing, either right or left-handed, rotate the hook to the right or left position. This allows you to fire around a corner or barricade without exposing yourself to view. When doing this, it is difficult to provide enough resistance to recoil to allow functioning in semi-automatic mode. You may have to thrust the gun forward as you pull the trigger because your bent arm acts like a shock absorber and permits the gun to recoil excessively.”

The SPAS 12 manual recommends its user shove the shotgun forward as they fire, essentially “punching” the weapon at the target so the forward momentum of the gun at the time of discharge provides extra resistance.

In short, the operator’s bent or extended arm provides a less rigid support for the SPAS 12 when firing in semi-automatic mode, resulting in a failure of the bolt to completely cycle. This situation is similar to limp wristing a pistol, where the shooter's grip isn’t firm enough to keep the handgun from excessively moving when firing and the slide fails to move with enough force to extract or cycle a new round.

SPAS 12 Import Bans

California’s Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 banned the ownership and transfer of over 50 specific firearm models, including the Uzi, the Streetsweeper, and the SPAS 12 shotgun. Even with Franchi’s solid stock and lower capacity redesign for the sporting market, the SPAS 12 was again targeted five years later by American politicians with the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which banned the import of any semi-automatic shotgun that included both a pistol grip and a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds.

A close up of the SPAS 12 shotgun's iconic heat shield. After the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, imports of the SPAS 12 were halted in America.

SPAS 12 Production Ends

Even before Franchi was forced to abandon its American market, the SPAS 12 was losing ground to new competitors. The Benelli M3, for example, which was introduced in 1987, offered a similar dual-mode system at a more affordable price point. The SPAS 12 was also heavier than most of its peers, weighing in at 9.7 lbs, or 4.4 kg unloaded. Additionally, the suite of features offered by the SPAS 12 was perceived by some police departments as awkward, overly complicated, and too situational to justify the added expense.

The SPAS 12 shotgun's unique suite of features came at a comparatively high price point.

In the 1980s, dedicated nonlethal riot control weapons like pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and electric tasers became increasingly popular with law enforcement, and since the turn of the millennium, the AR-15 platform took over much of the shotgun’s niche for situations demanding lethal stopping power. The need for a highly specialized police shotgun diminished, and reliable inexpensive favorites like the Remington Model 870 and the Mossberg 500 continue to serve in select roles like door breaching and firing tear gas rounds.

The SPAS 15 was Franchi’s successor to the SPAS 12. This example sold for $7,638 in Rock Island Auction Company's August 2022 Premier Auction.

2000 marked the final year of production for the SPAS 12 shotgun. Franchi continued the dual-mode shotgun concept with the SPAS 15, a lighter design with a faster reload thanks to its detachable box magazines. In the years since it was discontinued, the desire to own a SPAS 12 has only grown among collectors, shooters, and arms enthusiasts, and that popularity is reflected in the model's surging price point.

SPAS 12 Price

In its final year of production, the SPAS 12 price was $1,500. Over the last two decades, and particularly in recent times, gun values have been rising across the board, but saying that the SPAS 12 price is experiencing a rapid upswing is a gross understatement.

When considering the average SPAS 12 price by year at Rock Island Auction Company, we've gathered data from every Sporting & Collector Auction, Premier Auction, and Arms & Accessories Auction dating back to 2016. In an effort to maintain consistency and accuracy, the graph presented below has excluded multi-gun lots and notably rare specialty examples like the scarce nickel-plated SPAS 12 shotguns. The buyer’s premium (ranging from 15% to 17.5% during the periods analyzed) is included in the sales price as this reflects what a gun collector was willing to pay to own a SPAS 12 shotgun. The graph below specifically looks at SPAS 12 shotguns with the folding metal stock that was produced before California's 1989 import ban, and only mechanically excellent SPAS 12 examples are included.

The average SPAS 12 price by year at Rock Island Auction Company from 2016 to 2022. The dramatic uptrend is consistent with recent SPAS 12 blue book values and presents an intriguing case for the SPAS 12 shotgun as a true collector's arm.

In only a seven-year span, the average SPAS 12 price at Rock Island Auction Company nearly tripled, a dramatic surge in value that equals or surpasses some of the hottest collectible guns on the market right now by growth percentage. In 2016, a SPAS 12 averaged $2,588, hovering around the same price in 2017 and 2018 before leaping to $3,091 in 2019, then rocketing upward the next three years and shattering the $7,000 price barrier, a number that would have seemed unimaginable ten years ago.

Specialty examples like the nickel-plated SPAS 12 are even more rare.

The reason for such a dramatic SPAS 12 price surge is multifaceted. Hollywood and video game coverage received by the SPAS 12 has certainly helped, and the shotgun’s representation in popular Youtube videos from the likes of Demolition Ranch and Garand Thumb has further elevated the model. Recent SPAS 12 values at Rock Island Auction suggest that the shotgun's rise is no accident, and arms collectors and consigners should expect the average SPAS 12 price in 2023 to continue its strong showing.

Spas 12 for Sale

Given the SPAS 12 shotgun’s history, unique set features and aesthetic, and its presence in popular media, it’s little wonder that this Italian curiosity continues to garner interest from gun collectors across the globe. The SPAS 12 presents the chance to own and shoot a specialized tactical firearm that stands apart from any shotgun seen before or since.

SPAS 12 for sale! The famous shotgun regularly appears at Rock Island Auction Company.

Finding a SPAS 12 for sale has become ever more challenging as the shotgun’s popularity has skyrocketed. In years past, the SPAS 12 shotgun was primarily featured in RIAC’s Premier and Sporting & Collector Auctions. The famous gun’s presence in Arms & Accessories Day Auction events highlights the expanded quality and selection found in RIAC’s newest auction format.

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Hollywood action films have made stars out of numerous guns, enhancing their value in the eyes of the collecting community. Subscribe to the Rock Island Auction newsletter to receive weekly gun blogs and gun videos on firearm models that forged their legend in Hollywood like the Beretta 92FS, the Mac-10 SMG, the Bren Ten pistol, as well as genuine screen-used hero guns like Lara Croft's pistols, John Wayne's 'True Grit' revolver, and Han Solo's DL-44 blaster from the original 'Star Wars.'

The H&K USP 9 Match pistols wielded by Angelina Jolie in 2001's 'Tomb Raider' film sold for $32,250 in RIAC's August 2022 Premier Auction.

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