Whether you’re transporting firearms across state lines or international borders, there are a few general rules that you will need to follow.
Rules for transporting firearms
- Keep your firearm unloaded and stored in a container such as a case or lockbox. Never place your firearm in the glove compartment or console.
- The case or lockbox should not be easily accessible to the driver or the passengers
- The ammunition should always be kept separate and locked away in a container
- Make sure you follow the firearm transportation regulations of the state or country that you will be traveling in.
Gun laws in the US and Canada
Gun laws in the US can vary greatly from state to state. Most states will require a background check before a permit or license is given. However, in some states, private sellers are allowed to sell firearms to buyers without conducting one.
- While every individual has a right to bear arms according to the US constitution, this is limited by federal and local law.
- Civilians are allowed private possession of different firearms with some conditions:
- To possess a fully automatic weapon, you will need to apply for a federal license and registration.
- To possess restricted firearms and ammunition such as machine-guns, sawn-off shotguns, silencers, and armor-piercing ammunition, you will be required to get appropriate registration.
- In most jurisdictions, ownership of semiautomatic assault weapons and handguns such as pistols and revolvers are permitted without a license.
- Gun laws in Canada are relatively stricter than those in the US. According to federal law, gun owners should be at least 18 years old and have a license. To get a license, an individual should pass a public safety course and a background check.
Canada classifies guns in three categories
- Non-restricted guns such as ordinary rifles and shotguns typically used in hunting and target shooting.
- Restricted guns such as semiautomatic rifles or shotguns, handguns, and sawed-offs
- Prohibited guns such as automatics.
Tips for bringing firearms across the border
- Do your research on the gun laws of the country you are traveling to and do it early. Getting all the legal requirements squared away before your trip could take months, so it’s best to get it all done well before your trip.
- Smile, be polite, and answer all the questions you’re asked by the border officials. Being cooperative will make crossing the border much easier.
- Run a thorough check on your vehicle for stray shells or stored firearms. All ammunition should be stored in a locked box separate from your unloaded firearm that is also stored in a case.
- You should also check your luggage and clothing for loose cartridges or similar items that you forgot to take out from your last hunting trip.
- If you don’t need your firearm on your trip abroad, you can store it in facilities near the border crossing. Just make sure you do this before you try to cross the border. Otherwise, your weapon will be seized and you will be asked to pay a hefty fine. You might even go to jail.
Border Crossing with firearms from the US to Canada
Canada is very strict in enforcing their firearms import laws. At their discretion, border officials can search any vehicle for undeclared weapons and seize any firearms as well as the vehicle if they find any. Anyone found in possession of an undeclared firearm will be subject to a fine and possible jail time.
An individual must be at least 18 years of age to transport a firearm into Canada. Minors (younger than 18) are allowed to carry firearms in special circumstances. However, they must be accompanied by an adult who will be held responsible for the weapon.
Types of weapons
Some weapons and devices that are deemed not to be firearms include:
- Antique firearms are ones that were made before 1898 and was not designed to discharge rim-fire or centre-fire ammunition nor has it been redesigned to discharge such ammunition.
- Devices designed solely for signaling distress or for firing blank cartridges
- Shooting devices designed solely for tranquilizing animals
- Air guns that have a muzzle velocity of no more than 152.4 meters per second and/or a muzzle energy of no more than 5.7 joules.
Non-restricted firearms are ordinary rifles and shotguns. Restricted firearms, on the other hand, are defined as:
- a firearm that has a barrel less than 470 mm in length and able to discharge centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner
- a firearm designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to a length of less than 660 mm by folding, telescoping or otherwise
- a handgun that is not considered prohibited
- a firearm of any other kind that is considered to be a restricted firearm by law.
To own and use a firearm in Canada, you are required to possess a license for the class of firearm in your possession. For non-residents with non-restricted firearms, you can meet this requirement in two ways:
The Non-Resident Firearm Declaration:
Declare your firearms (maximum of 3) using the Non-Resident Firearm Declaration. If you have more than 3 firearms, you can add them to your list using a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration Continuation Sheet.
Fill out the entire form before you reach the border crossing but don’t sign it. The CBSA customs officer needs to be present to witness your signature.
You will need to pay a flat fee of $25. The form will serve as a license and stay valid for 60 days.
Possession and Acquisition License (PAL):
To obtain this license, individuals must pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, both written and practical tests. With this license, there is no need to complete the firearms declaration form. An oral declaration will do.
For restricted firearms, additional requirements must be met. You will need to apply for an Authorization to Transport (ATT) restricted firearms with the Chief Firearms Officer of the province or territory you will be traveling to. You can also apply by calling 1-800-731-4000.
Prohibited weapons cannot be brought into Canada. No paperwork or permit will stop them from seizing your prohibited weapons and destroying them.
Prohibited firearms include:
- Handguns with barrels shorter than 4-inches
- a firearm that is adapted from a rifle or a shotgun (i.e. sawed-off) and is less than 660 mm in length OR is 660 mm or longer with a barrel that is less than 457 mm
- fully automatic
- converted automatics
- assault-type weapons
Bringing back personal firearms
You will need to fill out a CBP Form 4457 prior to you leaving the US. This form will detail all the valuables you will be taking with you abroad, including your firearm. A completed form will be sufficient proof to the CBP customs officer that you departed from the US with your gun and did not purchase it outside the country. Once completed, the form can be used multiple times for that particular firearm that you registered.
Border Crossing with firearms from Canada to US
The US CBP is much more lenient about the import of firearms into the country than Canada. And border officials have more discretion on how they will respond if an individual breaks firearm import laws. For example, if a border official deems that you did not mean to smuggle a firearm into the country, he or she may just seize the weapon and refuse you entry rather than file criminal charges against you.
Rules for transporting firearm to the US
- Any nonimmigrant alien who wishes to bring firearms or ammunition into the US will need to apply for a permit from the ATF. You will need to complete the ATF Form 6NIA and submit it to the ATF before your trip. Turnaround time can be within a week or as long as 2-3 months. The permit is valid for 1 year.
- Canadian residents will be required to provide their Canadian firearm license number and a complete list of the firearms and ammunition that you plan to temporarily import into the US.
- At the border, you will need to present your permit to the CBP customs officer. While an ATF permit allows you to enter the US with your firearms and ammunition, it does not automatically mean that you will be granted entry at the border. You will have to satisfy the CBP official that you have a lawful purpose for entering the US with your weapons.
Persons under 18 years of age, individuals with criminal records, the mentally disabled, unlawful aliens, dishonorably discharged military personnel, and others are prohibited from transporting or possessing a firearm.
Also, civilians who are planning on importing firearms and ammunition are required to have a lawful purpose for doing so. This means that you will need to present a valid hunting license or permit, attendance to a gun show, or an invite to a competitive shooting event.
Tips for inspection process with firearms at the US border
- Do not use the NEXUS lane if you are transporting firearms across the border because this is a program violation. You must use a regular lane and declare your firearms to the customs officials at the border.
- Your firearms should meet the import requirements of the US. For example, the import of machineguns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and firearms from countries on an embargo list is restricted.
- You cannot leave your firearms or unspent ammunition in the US.
- If you are importing a firearm that was manufactured in or before 1898, there is no need to apply for an ATF permit. You only need to have proof of age as well as authenticity.
State firearm law information
As mentioned earlier, firearm laws vary greatly from state to state. While the CBP enforces federal laws, once you cross the border, you will be governed by state and local gun laws. And because these laws often differ between states, you should make it your responsibility to know the laws and regulations on firearms in the area you will be visiting.
In most states, it is legal to transport a firearm that is unloaded, cased, and locked in a space that is inaccessible to the driver or passengers of the vehicle such as the trunk. However, there are some differences that you should take note of. For example, some states will require non-residents to apply for permits for carrying usable, loaded firearms while others will not. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are just some of a few states that are very strict about the transportation and possession of firearms.
Bringing back to Canada
To return to Canada with your firearm, you will need to present proof that it was bought in Canada or that you already paid the duty for importing it previously. You can complete the Form BSF407, Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation, before you exit Canada and have a CBSA staff witness it.
You may also be required to present a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), a firearm registration certificate, and an Authorization to Transport (ATT) depending on the type of firearm you are re-importing and the port of entry you are planning to travel through.