NOTE: This article was originally printed in the October 2016 print edition of Canadian Access to Firearms (CATF). It is reproduced here for the convenience of our readers. It is Part 2 in a series about import and export of firearms to/from Canada. In June, the related article “Because you asked: exporting firearms from Canada to the United States” appeared in the print edition of CATF, and can be accessed by clicking here.
OVERVIEW: IMPORTING GUNS TO CANADA
It’s a question every serious collector and shooter in Canada comes across from time to time: how can guns and their parts go across the border? As you can imagine, it’s a complex and evolving process in these highly-regulated times. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and certainly doesn’t mean you should give up. There are a handful of agents throughout Canada that offer an import service, and the good news is that nearly any gun or part can legally cross the Canada-U.S. border with the proper procedure. And with the right agent, all that complexity will be taken care of for you, making the whole thing surprisingly simple!
Here, in Part 2 of this series we’ll focus on the question of getting guns, parts and ammo from the United States. While the rare scenario may involve the need to temporarily move these items across the border (such as for a hunting trip or repair by the manufacturer), this article focuses on the most common ‘permanent’ import scenarios.
As you’ll read below, even when you can do certain parts of the process yourself, it is complicated and time-consuming for the novice, so hiring a qualified full-service agent is generally a good plan. But no matter what you do, you need to do things right as the authorities take these matters increasingly seriously, and a firearms trafficking offense is not something you want on your record due to ignorance.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: DETERMINING THE NEED
By this point you’ve likely already decided you want to import the item(s) from the States. But let’s briefly go over your options within Canada before committing to the import. After all, while the right agent will make it all very easy for you, importing still takes time and money that buying within Canada may be able to save you. So, if you’re looking for a certain unique gun or part, here’s what you can do to find it in Canada first: check with the dealers in your area, search the online Canadian gun forums, and browse the pages of this wonderful Canadian Access to Firearms publication. You could even put a classified ‘want ad’ here. Perhaps your dealer said they could get it, but it would take six months to a year. Don’t be upset with them – standard distribution channels rely on a handful of exclusive importers, most of whom aren’t known for their attention to special orders like yours.
So, whether you’re after hard-to-find replacement parts for your older model gun, or the hot new model just released in the U.S. but not planned in Canada for another year, it may be time to do an import.
Most, but not all, items relating to firearms have some level of export / import controls. Generally, accessories that are not themselves parts – such as a rifle sling or cleaning kit – are not controlled. However nearly all gun parts, and certainly all guns and ammo require export licensing from the U.S. Even optical scopes are controlled for export to Canada under current law. Ammunition and its components are controlled, and Canada requires that ammo imported commercially be on the ‘List of Authorized Explosives’ with Natural Resources Canada.
And, all controlled items must be allowed for import into Canada and export from the United States. Both countries have their own requirements, and making the common but well-intentioned mistake of calling only the Canada Border Services Agency typically results in hearing only one side of the laws – the Canadian import requirements which by themselves are actually quite simple. Working with the right import/export agent, you can find out which items are allowed and disallowed – even with a Prohibited endorsement on your PAL, no new Prohib-class firearms or parts can be imported into Canada for collectors. And the U.S. government doesn’t allow export of items made in certain countries or with certain features – all of which a good agent can assess for your situation.
SMALL PARTS & ANTIQUE EXEMPTIONS
What about small parts, or antique firearms – surely I can do those by myself, right? Unfortunately, while the U.S. government may not require a full export license for these items, they do still require that an electronic filing be made by a registered exporter to claim use of these exemptions. While some U.S. sellers or auction houses may be willing to ship these items without this filing, buyer beware: their non-compliance could result in your items being permanently seized by U.S. Customs agents before they even leave the country. The better option is to choose an agent who offers a dedicated and discounted service for these small parts and antique exemption filings.
To qualify for the ‘small parts’ exemption, the parts cannot be considered ‘significant’ – the list of which includes barrels, cylinders, receivers (frames), complete breech mechanisms and any full-auto parts. The total value must be $500 USD or less, and of course all parts must be legal for import and possession in Canada (no high-capacity magazines).
To qualify for the ‘antique exemption’, the gun must have been manufactured before 1899 and your agent may need satisfactory proof thereof. Importantly, this U.S. definition of an antique firearm differs from the Canadian definition, which requires pre-1898 manufacture (note the one year difference) and includes caliber restrictions based on the type of firearm. If your item qualifies as antique in the U.S. but not in Canada, it may be exported under the U.S. antique exemption but will require treatment as a modern firearm for Canada Customs and once within the country (including Registration for Restricted-classified firearms).
GETTING STARTED: CHOOSING YOUR AGENT
By way of background and full disclosure, 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-USA 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.
Generally speaking, there are two types of agents one can consider in this context: full-service and export-only. A full-service agent will take care of all requirements on both sides of the border – export and import, including Customs clearance – then deliver the item to you within Canada. An export-only agent is a U.S. based company that’s registered as an exporter with the U.S. government, but relies on you (and often your Canadian Customs Broker) to complete the import requirements and Customs clearance. While the latter ‘export-only’ option may sound appealing for potential cost savings, the reality is a good full-service agent may actually save you money and will certainly save you a lot of hassle!
WHILE YOU WAIT: YOUR AGENT DOES THE WORK
Due to the multitude of government agencies involved in a typical firearm import/export transaction (up to 15 different agencies in both countries by recent count!), wait time is unavoidable. There’s no “free 2-day shipping” of guns across the border. In fact, a couple months from start to finish is not unusual – and while things can go faster or even take longer, one can imagine that with so many government agencies involved there’s not much that the agent can do to expedite the process. But, by choosing an agent who does considerable volume of cross-border firearms shipments, you’ll receive the benefit of their expertise and hopefully positive relationships with the myriad agencies involved.
EXPORT APPROVAL: NOW WHAT?
The biggest hurdle is often approval of the U.S. export license. So, once that’s approved, what’s next? Hopefully you’re not far from getting your items right where they belong – safely in your hands. If you hired an ‘export-only’ agent, they will likely make shipping arrangements but now it’s going to be up to you and your Customs Broker to clear the shipment through Canada Customs. If you hired a ‘full-service’ agent, they will also facilitate the transportation and clearance through Canada Customs. The rare full-service agent will even do so in-person – literally bringing your items to the border themselves and being present to answer any questions that arise and assist in any inspection by Customs. This in-person Customs clearance could save weeks of items being mistakenly held by Customs or worse yet, mishandling of your items by an unscrupulous Customs agent who has no knowledge or respect for firearms.
Done right, this is the point when you get your gun or related items delivered safely to you. While it may seem overwhelming at first, it can certainly be done – and without hassle. So next time the question arises in your own mind or in conversation with a fellow shooter, remember: guns can move across the border legally and efficiently. 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