NOTE: This article was originally printed in the May 2016 print edition of Canadian Access to Firearms. It is reproduced here for the convenience of our readers. See the forthcoming October 2016 of Canadian Access to Firearms for Part 2 in the series, titled “Because you asked: importing firearms into Canada from the United States”.
If you’ve been involved in the shooting sports in Canada for more than a couple weeks, you’ve encountered this question: how can guns and their parts go across the border? It’s a complex and constantly changing reality, so there’s a lot of dangerous misinformation out there. The good news is, with the proper procedure nearly any gun or part can legally cross the Canada-U.S. border. Some scenarios allow you to ‘do it yourself’, while others require you to hire the services of a qualified agent. As you’ll read below, even when you can do certain parts of the process yourself, it is complicated and very time-consuming for the novice, so hiring a qualified agent is generally a good plan. But no matter what you do, you need to do things right as the authorities take these things increasingly seriously, and a firearms trafficking offense is not something you want on your record due to ignorance.
Because there are so many situations and variables, we’ll cover one common scenario here: exporting guns from Canada to the United States. In a future article, we hope to cover the topic of shipping the other direction – importing guns and parts from the U.S. into Canada. Due to complex and changing regulations, whenever you’re doing any of this yourself, you should check that the procedures outlined here are still the same. To that end, this is not considered legal advice but rather meant to be a helpful overview to simplify an overwhelming topic. It should also be noted that this article refers to ‘modern’ firearms – those that are not antique under U.S. or Canadian law. Antique firearms are generally more simple, however still require certain procedures to be followed.
Importantly, it should be understood that it is not the intent of this article to take business away from the many wonderful Canadian dealers who serve our community day in and day out. The reality is that with current exchange rates and the costs involved in a cross-border firearms transaction, a purchase south of the border is generally not a money-saving venture. Rather, such transactions are usually to obtain a hard-to-find-in-Canada item, or due to an inheritance / estate situation, or even an international move. Here we’ll discuss permanent export of firearms – those leaving Canada without intention for them to return. If you’re planning for a temporary export – for a hunting trip or shooting match in the States – you should know that the information in this article is only relevant for permanent exports.
By way of background, as the author of this article I own and operate Borderview International Firearm Logistics – a company specializing in the legal and efficient cross-border movement of firearms, especially between Canada and the United States. Whenever possible, we explain to customers how they can do the paperwork themselves. We’ll do the same in this article – but the reality is that the U.S. government in particular requires a licensed agent to be involved in most cross-border firearms transactions. Our company moves thousands of firearms across the Canada-United States border annually — a number that is growing each year — while maintaining a sterling compliance record with all relevant government agencies in both countries. There are a handful of other companies out there offering related services, and you can find them with a simple web search to compare and find the best fit for your needs.
Exporting a gun from Canada to the United States
A strong U.S. dollar combined with a strong U.S. firearms market has meant more and more U.S. gun buyers shopping Canadian gun listings. Whether you got an unexpected call from a U.S. buyer ready to purchase, or you intentionally marketed your gun(s) for sale in the States – the good news is, most models can move across the border given a bit of time to obtain the proper authorizations.
With all cross-border transactions, and especially those that are firearms-related, it’s very important to remember that there are two distinct countries’ laws involved, and both must be followed precisely. In the case of exporting a firearm from Canada to the United States, it’s the U.S. law that requires the majority of work. As you read this, keep in mind that if you’re working with a full-service provider such as Borderview, paperwork on both sides of the border will be taken care of for you, as well as the physical cross-border movement of the gun(s) – which can be a major sticking point even for those who have completed all of the paperwork correctly.
Restricted and Non-Restricted firearms do not require an Export Permit from Global Affairs Canada (formerly Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, or DFAIT) when being sent to the U.S. (note that exports to countries other than the U.S. do require an Export Permit for these classifications of firearms).
Prohibited-classified firearms require an Export Permit, which can be obtained by applying with Global Affairs Canada through their online system called EXCOL. You will be required to provide plenty of supporting information as part of your Export Permit application for a Prohibited firearm, including the Registration Certificate number, your PAL number, and the approved U.S. Import Permit. Once obtained, this Export Permit should be presented to the Canadian officials (CBSA) at the Port of Exit before the gun leaves the country. If they will provide their stamp on a copy of the Export Permit, keep this in your files as it will come in handy when it comes time to remove the gun from the Registry (more on this below). Finally, after using the Export Permit to export Prohibited classified firearms to the U.S., you are required to file a ‘Permit Utilization Report’ with Global Affairs Canada, stating the date the goods were actually exported, the port of exit and more. A full-service provider will take care of all of this for you as part of the process.
Any firearm Registered in the Canadian Firearms Registry that is permanently exported to the States should be removed from the Registry by providing ‘Proof of Export’. Such documentation includes the U.S. Import Permit signed and stamped by U.S. Customs, and when applicable (for Prohibited firearms only) the Canadian Export Permit stamped by CBSA at the Port of Exit. These can be emailed to CFRImport_Group@rcmp-grc.gc.ca along with a request for removal from the Registry. Once your request is processed and confirmed, you will receive an Export Notice letter from the RCMP, acknowledging the exportation of the stated firearm(s) and confirming that the Registry’s records concerning them have been amended accordingly.
UNITED STATES REQUIREMENTS
Since 1968, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”) has required an approved Import Permit, called a Form 6, for permanent importations of firearms into the United States. In most cases, this must be obtained by a licensed FFL Dealer or Importer. However, if the reason for your import into the U.S. is that you are planning a move, you may be able to complete the Form 6 Import Permit application yourself – however be aware that you must receive the approved Permit back before you immigrate, otherwise you’ll be required to hire an FFL to do the paperwork for you.
While most firearms can be imported to the U.S., there are certainly some that cannot. Generally speaking, the smallest Prohibited handguns (those with a barrel length less than 3 inches, and some others) cannot be imported, regardless of whether they originally came from the U.S. or not. Further, any military-related guns must be at least 50 years old, in their original configuration, and not have been in a proscribed country for at least the last 5 years (applications for such firearms must include a ‘five year history letter’ as well as a certification that such statements are true). All firearms must meet a sporting purposes test, meaning certain tactical style firearms may not be importable to the United States. If you are working with a professional service, they can advise you with some confidence as to which guns are importable; otherwise, it can take many months of attempts with the ATF to learn the ultimate admissibility of a given model.
In addition to the Import Permit requirement, the United States has several other requirements that come into play during the shipping process outlined below.
Shipping, Brokerage and Customs Release
Believe it or not, one of the biggest challenges in exporting firearm(s) to the U.S. is their physical transportation once all permits are approved. None of the parcel couriers, nor Canada Post allow for the export of firearms using their services. This leaves the very expensive and still narrowly available option of using an air freight forwarder, or shipping a small parcel on a large semi with a ‘Less Than Truckload’ carrier such as Reimer – which would incur substantial minimum charges, require setting up an account and hiring a U.S. Customs Broker even for small personal shipments. When needed, both air freight and truck freight are legitimate options, but expect to pay at least several hundred dollars, and sometimes upwards of a thousand dollars. The better option is engage the services of a full-service firearm export/import firm who will facilitate the cross-border transport and Customs clearance in-person on your behalf, as part of their flat service fee.
The importer in the United States, if doing it themselves, will need to hire a U.S. Customs Broker to clear the shipment through Customs. Once again, a good full-service provider will include this in their flat service fee. An important part of the U.S. Customs clearance process is proper completion of the ‘ATF Form 6A’, which is a Release document certifying to ATF which gun(s) were imported and that they passed Customs inspection. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) should complete Section II of the Form 6A and send their copy to ATF, while the U.S. importer should complete and submit Section III of the form.
When the U.S. importer is completing Section III of the Form 6A, he is certifying to the U.S. government that the firearm(s) imported were marked in accordance with U.S. law. What does this mean? Well, since 1968 ATF has also required that all firearms permanently imported – even those originally made in the U.S. and later imported by someone else – be permanently ‘marked’ with certain identifying information. Generally, firearms already have most of the required information on them, such as the name of the manufacturer, model, caliber, and country of manufacture. If any of this information is not already present on the gun to a minimum depth and height, it must be added along with the name, city and state of the Importer. All of this information must be ‘conspicuous’, meaning it cannot be completely hidden under the stock or grip of the gun. But, an experienced importer can often find a location for the marking that satisfies ATF’s requirement but is also not glaringly obvious. Furthermore, if the gun(s) involved are collectibles of any sort, attempt should be made to work with an Importer who has a professional grade laser marking machine, which offers the finest and smallest markings – rather than some marking machines which are much more obtrusive, or in the worst case an importer who attempts to mark the gun by using a Dremel style tool or metal punch and hammer.
Once the firearms have been successfully imported and properly marked, they need to be transferred to the individual recipient through an FFL dealer, as is the case with almost all firearms transfers in the U.S. If you are moving and did the ATF import paperwork yourself, you will most likely be able to clear Customs in-person with your firearms and take them with you from there.
While there is an abundance of information in this article, the bottom line is this: guns can move across the border legally and efficiently. While you may be able to do certain parts of the process yourself, a qualified agent must be hired for at least some of the process, and most will find it to be a great decision to hire a full-service agent who can do the work on both sides of the border including in-person Customs clearance.
So, do your homework and work with the right agent – then you’ll have done what many said couldn’t be done these days – legally shipping guns across an international border!
Written by Joel VanderHoek of Borderview International Firearm Logistics