The AA-12 Was Always Dumb, But Awesome

If you grew up in the early 2000s and had an interest in guns, then you couldn’t escape the AA-12. The Atchisson AA-12 was a magazine-fed machine shotgun that promised to be game-changing. While it seemed to make its big premiere in 2005, the design dates back to 1972 when Maxwell Atchisson developed the original prototypes. The design we all know and love comes from modifications by Military Police Systems. 

MPS purchased the patent and developed it for 18 years to finally come up with the modern AA-12. In the early 2000s, the gun was everywhere. That’s odd for a full auto-only shotgun that couldn’t be sold to the general public, yet, somehow, it became a pretty big piece of pop culture. Like most guns, it popped up in Call of Duty. FPS Russia did a hilarious video with the AA-12 where he dual-wielded a pair of them, not to mention Future Weapons, where the gun got an entire segment and a role in the Expendables. 

The AA-12 was on fire! Then it just kind of faded away. It never received that big military contract, and it certainly wasn’t adopted by any police forces. Sol Invictus purchased the rights from MPS and have been trying to bring a semi-auto-only option to the market, but that seems to have stalled.  

The truth is, the AA-12 is kind of dumb. 

Why is the AA-12 Dumb? 

The AA-12’s main selling point is that it’s fully automatic. Not only is it full auto, ut its full auto only. Admittedly a cycling rate of 300 rounds a minute makes it easy to fire single shots. Cool, but what’s the point? Full auto fire is designed to suppress targets.

No one is suppressing with a shotgun. The limited source of ammunition certainly isn’t helping. The AA-12 used 8-round box magazines, or 20 or 32-round drums, which are absolutely massive. That’s not enough to suppress a military target. Plus, it’s a shotgun. It doesn’t have the range to suppress a target. 

What’s the point of the full auto capability at that point? In semi-auto, a shotgun can be used fast enough to fight at close quarters. Pointing and firing a shotgun in a full auto method isn’t really beneficial. If I use my imagination, it seems like the most useful a full auto shotgun can be is shooting at threats moving in the dark, but only as close range. 

Even then, it doesn’t seem that useful. That’s a very small niche and doesn’t really do with the American principle of establishing positive identification before pulling the trigger. Shotgun pellets will be flying wildly around the area. 

Not only that, but magazine-fed shotguns are ticky. Plastic shotgun ammunition will deform inside a box machine if left loaded. Deformed shells create feeding issues, and that’s not good in a combat-oriented firearm. Drums don’t deform shells but are bulky and have historically been quite finicky and difficult to use. 

The AA-12s problem was that it didn’t have a purpose. 

What Was Fascinating About It 

The AA-12 used an API Blowback system that made it extremely light recoiling. FPS Russia famously fired an AA-12 with a single hand. API Blowback is an operating principle that actually fires the round before it is fully chambered. It’s a purposeful out-of-battery detonation. It’s commonly used in cannons and full auto grenade launchers like the Mk19. 

This eliminates something like 80% of the felt recoil. That’s impressive because we all know shotguns aren’t exactly recoil-friendly firearms. Making a full auto shotgun that’s easy to handle and low recoiling is an impressive feat. 

Additionally, the AA-12 came out, and there were numerous shells for it. Most famously, the FRAG-12 rounds offered an explosive slug round. These mini explosives were seen in Future Weapons and dramatically included in the film Expendables. 

It’s also just kind of cool. A full auto shotgun is throwing waves of pellets with each magazine, and that makes it seem like a handheld Metal Storm. It looks cool, seems terrifying to face, and was reportedly reliable and well-made. It just lacked purpose. 

Where the AA-12 Could Work 

Honestly, if you eliminate the full-auto function, the AA-12 could succeed mostly because it could be sold to civilians like you and me. In the civilian realm, we have different concerns than the military, and using a box mag-fed, semi-auto shotgun isn’t a terrible idea for home defense, especially if the API Blowback system works in semi-auto. 

Full-auto shotguns are just plain silly and seemingly weapons without purpose. However, the AA-12 could be a high quality, modern, box mag fed, semi-auto 12 gauge shotgun for defensive purposes. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.