The Lupara – The Mafia’s Favorite Shotgun

Sometimes firearms get nicknames like the Colt SAA being called the Peacemaker. Other times a specific type of firearm gets a name shared amongst a variety of civilian firearms. The Lupara is the latter. Any fan of mid-century Mafia books and movies will recognize the word Lupara. It’s most commonly associated with the Mafia, especially Cosa Nostra in Italy. 

The Lupara is a term applied to what we’d typically call a sawn-off shotgun. In Italy, these were often twelve gauges, and the stereotypical Lupara is a double-barrel shotgun. However, the more common model was likely, the cheaper and much more common single-barrel variants. 

Fans of the Godfather series will remember Michael’s bodyguards in Italy carrying double-barrel shotguns. These are luparas. While the weapon has had a fearsome reputation amongst crime fiction fans, the Lupara wasn’t invented by the Mafia. It was farmers who had a need for a light and handy weapon that was plenty powerful. Lupara translates to ‘for the wolf,’ which is quite the name. These guns were used primarily by farmers to defend their animals from predators and their vineyards from thieves. 

Why The Lupara 

The why behind the lupara is two questions, but they have similar answers. The first is why did farmers adopt the Lupara over other options? A shotgun certainly has its advantages for taking down predators on two legs or four. It does fire a spread of shot that makes hitting moving targets a bit easier, which is certainly a consideration when shooting at four-legged predators. 

They are plenty powerful as well. However, one of the main reasons the shotgun was likely chosen was because they are cheap. Shotguns have pretty much always been cheaper than rifles and handguns. There was a period when Belgium was a lot like Turkey, and they were exporting single and double-barrel shotguns en masse for some low, low prices. 

I’m no expert on Italian firearm law, but I know with current law, shotguns are easier to acquire than certain rifles and handguns. However, hunting rifles don’t seem difficult to acquire. Shotguns are still cheaper and likely more useful for their situations, plus owning shotgun ammo is easier than other ammo types. It’s convenient, affordable, and commonplace.

Why did the shotgun or lupara become a mafia weapon? The commonality is most certainly the main reason. These guns were common, cheap, and easy to acquire. Criminals aren’t often rich, and Tommy guns weren’t cheap. Thus this led to them being a very popular option for criminals. Plus, to be completely fair, a sawn-off shotgun in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s would likely be a compact and capable weapon. Criminals tend to prefer weapons they can hide, and a sawn-off shotgun offers a lot more firepower than a handgun. 

Famous Uses of the Lupara 

The Lupara goes beyond pop culture. In 1890 a handful of organized crime members used four luparas to gun down the New Orleans chief of Police. They left the guns behind after their successful assassination. 

The gun was used extensively by the criminal elements in both Italy and the United States. In Italy, the Mafia used them to resist Mussolini’s forces, as did the Italian resistance movement. Mobster Joe Bonanno owned a single-barrel shotgun that had the barrel and stock trimmed neatly, and it currently resides in the Mob Museum. 

Carmine Galante was killed in 1979 by a shotgun, and Joseph Barboza was gunned down by several men wielding shotguns. Whether or not these were luparas is unknown, but they showed a modern appreciation for the shotgun. For the wolf certainly seems to remain accurate, be it in the hands of farmers or in the hands of mafia soldiers. 

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.