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Rock Island VRF14: What is it?

Rock Island Armory (RIA) makes a lot of affordable, fun, and interesting guns. One such interesting firearm is the VRF14 Semi-Auto 12-gauge. At first glance, this looks like a pistol or a short-barrel shotgun with a pistol grip. Legally, however, it’s neither one of these. We won’t get into the legal definitions of shotguns and pistols today, but the legal term for this weapon is a short barrel “firearm.”

This is why you won’t find the word “shotgun” in any of the information on Rock Island’s website. It’s a short barrel firearm chambered in 12-gauge, and it’s fun to shoot. This wasn’t a gun I was looking for, but when I saw the sale price, I couldn’t say no. A 12-gauge firearm like this wouldn’t do much good hunting or skeet shooting. So, that limits any practical uses to self-defense and fun on the range.

It’s not legally a pistol or a shotgun, it’s just a “firearm” with a 14″ barrel. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Rock Island weapons are very affordable and, for the most part, reliable. But honestly, I have not had many good experiences with these types of shotguns—that is, low-budget, semi-auto 12-gauge weapons. I’ve found they can have trouble cycling shells correctly, and the magazines can be finicky. Even with that belief, however, I had to try the VRF14 out and see if maybe, just maybe, RIA’s are different.

I haven’t owned this gun for very long, but I’ve had it to the range a few times. I’ve put everything from birdshot and turkey loads to an assortment of self-defense shells through it. Before we get into its reliability, though, let’s go over the VRF14 “firearm.”

Rock Island Armory VRF14 12-Gauge

For the most part, 12-gauge firearms are considered shotguns, which have a barrel length of 18 inches or more. When my grandfather was a kid, lots of people cut their shotguns down for home defense weapons. Today, that’s a big no-no, and the ATF will come knocking if they catch the wind you have altered a firearm. This leaves us with other options like pistol grip shotguns that have 18-inch barrels or bull-pup-style shotguns.

There are a few other short-barrel 12-gauge firearms out there, but they are not easy to find. As far as I am aware, the VRF14 is the first semi-auto 12-gauge firearm with a 14-inch barrel. It comes with a 5-round magazine, but RIA says it’s also compatible with the VR-Series 9 and 19-round magazines.

Rock Island Armory VRF14 12 gage.
The controls on the VRF14 are close to that of an AR-15 rifle, making it easy to use. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

The overall length of the VRG14 is 26 inches, and it comes with sling mounts on the front and back. It also comes with front and back flip-up sights that can be installed if you want to use them. A large plastic handguard covers the front of the gun and continues over the top of the upper receiver. Besides the Picatinny rail that runs along the top of the gun, there is a rail on the bottom of the handguard. Two short rails are located on the sides near the front of the gun.

In keeping with an AR-15-style platform, the VRF14 has an AR-15-style mag catch/release and selector switch. I like the round fluted charging handle attached to the bolt, which makes it easy to rack when loading the gun. The grip, mag-well, and lower receiver are all one piece, which is fine, but the grip cannot be changed out.

How does it shoot?

I didn’t have too high of expectations on the range because semi-auto guns like this tend to have feeding problems. I started with some cheap birdshot to see how it would do. As I expected, the first shell didn’t eject all the way as the second shell was trying to feed. This, of course, caused a jam. I cleared the chamber and tried again with the same results.

When I got it, the gun was completely dry, but I purposely didn’t oil it yet because I wanted it to break in. When metal rubs on metal without oil, it will slowly wear the metal down. After the first mag, I averaged about three malfunctions per magazine, so after about 30 rounds of birdshot, I decided to run some turkey loads through it.

Rock Island Armory VRF14 12 gage.
Shooting the VRF14 was fun, but watch out for those big 12-gauge shells as they kick just a little. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

One thing to remember is that firearm shooting 3-inch shells with no stock is hard to hang on to! It wasn’t the end of the world, but I’m not going to say it was fun or comfortable shooting larger shells. I went through three magazines (15 shells) and didn’t have a single issue. After this, I oiled the gun and went back to my turkey loads.

Three magazines later, I had a total of two malfunctions, which is much better than it was doing previously. I tried a few other types of shells, including some defensive rounds, and had no issues with those. By the time I left the range, I was able to fire multiple magazines with cheap birdshot without any malfunctions at all.

Is there a place for this gun?

I mentioned before there are only a few applications for a gun like this. After spending a day on the range with it, I feel comfortable that it could be used for self-defense with good shells. It appeared to cycle cheaper shells without issue by the time I left, but I don’t think I would trust regular 12 shells in it for home defense. Anything that was a little hotter cycled through the gun just fine.

For me, this would not be a primary self-defense weapon, but I would use it as a backup gun in the home vehicle. Semi-auto shotguns are cool, and when they cycle correctly, you can dump a lot of firepower downrange quickly. But I’m a little bit old-school when it comes to shotguns and prefer the proven reliability of a pump-action shotgun.

For a cheap, short “firearm” that appears to do well with self-defense 12-gauge shells, it’s a fun little gun to have. Shotguns are often large, heavy guns and this does shine in the size and weight category. A Remington 870 weighs about seven pounds and the Mossberg 500 7.5 pounds. The VRF14 comes in at a little over six pounds and, of course, is much shorter.

Rock Island Armory VRF14 12 gage.
The handguard on the VRF14 is a little bulky, but I can live with it on a 12 gauge. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

To buy or not to buy?

Deciding if you want this gun depends on how much you like 12-gauge firearms. It’s not in the reliability realm of Mossberg, Remington, or Benelli, but it’s cheap and compact. I found this one on sale for $225, which isn’t a bad price for a fun range gun. RIA made the receiver from 7075 aluminum and their own “bufferbolt” system.

Even though it had a rough start, it has been shooting great since then. I plan to take it to the range a few more times and see how it does, but I’m guessing it will do fine. Higher capacity magazines are available for it, but I haven’t tried any of them out to see how they work in the gun. To buy or not to buy is a question for each person to decide. But when it involves a gun, and you are not sure if you should buy it, err on the side of caution and just buy it.

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