If you purchase firearms based solely on their ability to help you survive the zombie apocalypse, you might want to skip this one. But if you have a sense of humor, a love of weird firearms, and a healthy desire to Stick It to The Man, Franklin Armory’s new Reformation is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

 

Franklin Armory built its reputation pushing the boundaries of gun control regulations – and sticking it to The Man that is California’s DOJ. They always stay within the “four corners of the law,” as company President Jay Jacobson told me via phone, but they’ve been exploring the dark recesses of those corners since their founding over 20 years ago.

The Reformation is the next stop in that exploration, and it may be one of the most unique non-historical rifles on the market. The idea is simple. By cutting straight rather than spiraling grooves in the bore, the Reformation is neither a rifle nor a shotgun. In that amorphous category (simply a “firearm”), it escapes the regulations that govern standard long guns, including barrel length requirements.

 

“We were looking at the definitions in California law relating to rifles and shotguns and how it might pertain to the assault weapons ban,” Jacobson said. “It dawned on us that there might be a false dichotomy. Could there be a potential configuration that was neither smoother nor rifled? In brainstorming it, I came up with straight cut lands and grooves.”

Weird, right? No spirals here.

You can find a more extended legal discussion below, but here’s the bottom line: according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Reformation can have a barrel measuring less than 16 inches without being considered an NFA Class III item. No tax stamp. No $200. No nine-month wait.

 

I’ve had a sample with a 7.5” barrel for the last few months, and I’ve gotta say – it’s the most fun you can have with your pants on.

Franklin Armory

Franklin Armory is currently based in Nevada, but it started in California in the ’90s. The company specializes in producing legal firearms for restrictive jurisdictions like The Golden State, and that innovative spirit has produced market-shifting offerings like the binary trigger (BFSIII). Their creativity has been spurred in part by their commitment to building products made entirely from premium American-made parts, a decision that forces them to “attack the market asymmetrically,” Jacobson said.

Franklin Armory refuses to use foreign-made parts in any of its firearms.

“Everybody has lots of options for a $499 AR that has lots of foreign-made parts in it. I refuse to buy foreign-made parts and put them in our guns. Everything in our guns is 100% American-made because a country isn’t much of a country if it doesn’t have food, fuel, and firearms,” he said. “Consequently, our product does cost a little bit more. So, in order to be relevant and viable, we create products that are within four corners of the law, but that allows for marketability.”

Along with the Reformation and the BSFIII trigger, Franklin Armory offers a wide variety of AR-type rifles, including an intriguing, soon-to-be-released pistol caliber carbine they’re calling Providence.

Are We Sure This is Legal?

Right now? Yes. Franklin Armory asked the ATF to take a look at the Reformation to ensure it complies with federal firearms law, and the feds concluded the Reformation is considered neither a rifle nor a shotgun under the National Firearms Act. It isn’t a rifle because the “rifling” doesn’t impart spin on the bullet (more on that below), and it isn’t a shotgun because it can’t fire “fixed shotgun shells” (.410GA – 10GA). 

I didn’t have to fill out any extra paperwork or pay for a tax stamp to take home this “firearm.”

The Reformation is considered a short-barreled shotgun under the Gun Control Act, but owning an unregistered SBS isn’t illegal under the GCA. The Reformation can, therefore, be purchased from any Federal Firearms Licensee without a $200 tax stamp or additional background checks.

Franklin Armory has published a letter written by a retired ATF Academy Instructor that summarizes the ATF’s findings. They haven’t published the ATF’s original letter because it contains proprietary information, but the summary letter includes citations of all the relevant law.

You can read the full letter here.

What You’re Getting

The Reformation comes with a hefty $1409.99 price tag along with a host of great features. So, what are you getting for all that dough? Here’s the spec sheet for the 7.5” barrel model chambered in 5.56 NATO. Franklin Armory also offers a version with an 11.5” barrel chambered in 300 Blackout that comes in black, green, or white. Opting for a “custom-tuned trigger” rather than the binary trigger bumps $320 off the price.

Barrel Length + Type 7.5” Full Contour
Handguard/Upper 7” FST™ M-Lok
Sights Magpul MBUS
Charging Handle Standard
Bolt Carrier Salt Bath Nitride
Bolt Material Carpenter No. 158 steel
Lower FAI™
Trigger Custom Tuned Trigger or BFSIII®
Gas System Carbine Length
Gas Block Low Profile
Muzzle Device Triumvir™
Color Black
Stock Magpul SL-K
Grip Magpul MIAD
Features Magpul M-Lok MVG Vertical Grip
Caliber 5.56 NATO
The BFSIII “binary trigger” fires a round on the pull and on the release. Needless to say, it’s a hoot.
The Reformation comes with Magpul flip-up sights…
… a Magpul stock…
… and a Magpul pistol grip.

So How Does It Shoot??

Shooting the Reformation is at first a little surreal. Those sideways-bullet holes set off mental alarm bells that are tough to ignore. Signs of a tumbling bullet usually indicate a major malfunction, but those vertical and horizontal tears are exactly what the Reformation is designed to produce.

The most obvious question and the one I was most curious to answer relates to accuracy. Because the bore has straight rather than spiraling grooves, the bullet begins to tumble almost immediately upon exiting the muzzle. (I shot a paper target at three yards with a heavy-grained 5.56 round and the bullet had already begun to tumble.) Tumbling rounds don’t tend to fly true, but the Reformation’s straight-cut grooves make the rounds fly at least… a little straight? Maybe?

Bullets begin to tumble almost immediately after exiting the barrel.

I did a lot of shooting with the firearm, and I wasn’t able to replicate the 3.5” 100-yard group Franklin mentions on its website. Maybe conditions were too windy, maybe I was using different ammunition, but based on my testing, I’d put the max range of this rifle at somewhere between 50 and 75 yards.

I used four different types of ammunition to test accuracy. Franklin Armory says heavy bullets tend to fly straighter, which makes sense if you think of the bullet as less like a football and more like a knuckleball. I’m no physicist, but mass x acceleration = mathy stuff, and I couldn’t hit anything with 55g rounds. Heavy bullets are the way to go.

I mounted a red dot, set up on a bag, and shot two sets of 10-round groups from 50 yards with each cartridge. Shooting standard 5×5-shot groups didn’t seem necessary because, realistically, you’re not using this thing for precision work. I’ve posted images of the second set of 10-round groups since I managed to catch all those rounds on each target.

As you can see, the groups opened up as the bullet weight decreased. The best group by far was with the American Eagle 75g TMJ load, which posted a respectable 3-inch group at 50 yards.

  • American Eagle 75g – 3” group (50yds) | Average Velocity: 1852fps
  • Speer Gold Dot 75g – 4” group (50yds) | Average Velocity: 1860fps
  • Hornady 73g Match – 5” group (50yds) | Average Velocity: 2041fps
  • Hornady 68g Frontier – 6″ group (50yds) | Average Velocity: 2240fps
American Eagle 75g
Speer Gold Dot 75g
Hornady 73g Match
Hornady 68g Frontier

Group size with tumbling bullets increases exponentially more quickly than spinning ones at extended ranges. When I pushed the 75g American Eagle rounds out to 70 yards, that 3-inch group became a 6-inch group (discounting two insane flyers), and I could not for the life of me post a 10-shot group at 100 yards. The conditions were windy that day, which may explain the discontinuity between my results and those of Franklin Armory. If that’s the case, it’s something to keep in mind: the effect of wind increases just as quickly as distance.

Moving in, the American Eagle bullets posted a 2.8-inch group at 25 yards.

Backing out to 70 yards…
… and moving in to 25.

Terminal Ballistics

I’d trust the Reformation to hit what I’m aiming at from 50 yards. That’s enough consistency for most self-defense situations, but how does a tumbling bullet’s terminal ballistics compare to a spinning bullet’s?

To answer this question, I put together wet packs following these instructions and took shots with both the Reformation and an AR-type rifle. The AR’s barrel measured the standard 16 inches, so this comparison isn’t exactly apples to apples (the bullet shot from the AR was traveling faster). But the simple test still provided some helpful information.

When the spinning bullet hit the wet pack, it tore a massive hole in the newspaper and fragmented. I found the largest fragment about 12 inches into the wet pack. When the tumbling bullet hit, it punched a small hole about 10 inches into the newspaper, and I recovered the bullet totally intact.

The tumbling bullet punched a hole about 10″ into the wet newspaper.
The spinning bullet penetrated 12″, fragmented…
… and left a pretty sizeable hole in its wake.

You may have predicted that the bullets would perform this way. Spinning 5.56 rounds are designed to punch through armor, churn flesh, and leave jacket and lead fragments in their wake. When these bullets aren’t spinning, they act more like a ball round from 17th-century muskets. They punch through nearly as far as spinning rounds, but the damage won’t be as devastating.

This, I think, is an even greater concern than the Reformation’s limited range. A 7.5-inch-barreled AR in civilian hands likely won’t ever be required to hit a target beyond 50 yards. But, without spin, the 5.56/.223 loses one of its biggest benefits—flesh-churning terminal ballistics.

Applications

Now, do I want to get shot with a tumbling 5.56 bullet? Heck no. If you want a firearm with a 7.5-inch barrel and you can’t wait for the $200 tax stamp to process and you don’t want to go the arm brace route, the Reformation will almost certainly get the job done as a close-quarters firearm. But are there better options? Yeah, probably. That’s why I mentioned at the top that this isn’t the gun for you if everything in your arsenal has to help you survive the apocalypse.

I really enjoyed working with the Reformation.

That being said, I still love the Reformation. It’s ultra-reliable, well-made, and super fun to shoot. I experienced zero malfunctions, even when I neglected to lube the gun the first time at the range, and the BSFIII (binary trigger) is an absolute blast.

Also, and I don’t think this can be understated, it’s a unique gun with a powerful philosophy behind it. If you’re tired of the same old AR’s, this is something that’s going to garner attention at the range and in the gun shop. It also represents a mindset, common among many gun owners, that takes issue with the never-ending attempts to curb Second Amendment rights. It may not be perfect or “practical,” but if you pine for the days Americans could own suppressors, machineguns, and SBR’s without the government’s say-so, the Reformation is a small taste of that liberty-loving heritage.

There are many reasons to own a gun. I think that’s a good one.