COMING FROM CANADA
It's getting easier for a Canadian to bring firearms and ammunition over the border and down to FAS, according to our Canadian students. Officials on both sides of the border are becoming accustomed to the increased red tape and security procedures that followed 9/11, and customs clearance now can take as little as one minute.
BUT, you do need to have all your paperwork in perfect order first. You'll need a special importation permit from the the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). And if you don't have one, be aware that it can take 6-8 weeks to get one. With luck, and if you follow the steps below, you'll have it in under a month. However, if you are not a Canadian citizen, and if you were born in a country with touchy relations with the U.S., know that it can many months to get your BATF permit.
In addition, the issue of Canada's prohibition of possession of shorter-barrelled guns can become an issue and leaving and returning to Canada with them is considered export and import activity. The Canadian government provides information about regulations at this webpage, and details about applying for import permits at this link and the Form EXT 1466 is available here. It has further been suggested that you make certain the long term ATT (permit to transport) include trips to and from the border, as many are only for trips to and from the range, though a short term permit covering travel to and from the border can be obtained, too.
For more general information, please click on the appropriate link:
You need a BATF permit.
You already have a BATF permit.
Entering the U.S.
Returning to Canada.
Applying for a BATF permit
Step One is for a Canadian to get from BATF a "Permit for Temporary Importation of Firearms and Ammunition by Non-Immigrant Alien". At BATF, this document is known as Form 5330.3D, and is also known as Form F 6NIA.
BATF now is issuing these permits for a one-year period. (For a while, it required one permit for each event you shot in the U.S., but now you can get one to cover all events for one year.)
Here's how to get your permit:
• Go to the BATF website and download the application form, in PDF format. To do that, click here.
• Be aware that BATF will ask if you have "an invitation and/or registration to attend an upcoming competitive target shooting event or sports or hunting trade show sponsored by a national, State, or local organization devoted to the collection, competitive use or other sporting use of firearms." And you'll have to send documentary proof of one of the above.
• Does a course at FAS qualify as one of the above? Certainly, one of our students has included an FAS registration and calendar in his application. However, he also has a membership in the Custer Sportsmen's Club which clearly is 'one of the above'. You may want to consider joining Custer or some other U.S. club to ensure that your BATF application goes through OK.
• Fill in the BATF form very, very carefully. We know of one Canadian who failed to read the form carefully, and unwittingly skipped a question. His application came back, and in the end it took almost six months of back-and-forth to get his permit.
For one thing, you'll need to include the name and address of the manufacturer(s) of your firearms. (A search for and through the manufacturer's website should come up with that.)
You'll also need your Canadian FAC/PAL/Registration Certificates handy while filling in the form, as you'll have to provide their numbers.
You also have to list the ammunition you'll be importing, and include the name and address of the manufacturer of it, too. One of our students has found that BATF happily settled for "Applicant's reloads for competition/practice" instead of the name and address of the ammunition manufacturer.
You must also declare how much ammunition you'll be bringing across the border. Obviously, that's difficult to predict, up to 12 months ahead, but BATF has accepted declarations such as "Maximum 500 rounds, usually 300 per event.")
(Note: Remember that FAS allows only FMJ ammunition on its range. If you're a Canadian who normally reloads RNL or LSWC ammunition for IPSC, for example, you may instead want to buy factory FMJ ammunition here at FAS, or pick some up on the way to FAS. More than one of our students stops at Kesselring's gunshop at Alger, WA on the way down.)
• We suggest you limit your BATF application to the one or two guns you're most likely to bring into the U.S. If you list your entire 30-gun collection, and suggest that you're going to bring in thousands and thousands of rounds of assorted ammunition, you can expect eyebrows to go up at BATF.
• Having completed your BATF application, you can mail it to the BATF, but we strongly recommend that you fax it instead. The BATF fax number to use is 202-927-1679. Snailmail applications can take a good two months and more to wind their way through Washington DC, but fax requests have made it in as little as three weeks. BATF will fax your permit back to you if you provide a fax number.
• Whether faxing or mailing to BATF, it is a good idea to include some other supporting documentation. One of our Canadian students reports fast service when he included photocopies of:
The identity page of his Canadian passport
His Nexus border-crossing card
His Canadian FAC/PAL
His Canadian firearms registration certificates for the guns in question
His membership in IPSC B.C.
Membership in the Port Coquitlam and District Hunting and Fishing Club (Burke Mountain)
Membership in the Custer Sportsmen's Club
And his membership in the U.S. Practical Shooting Association.
He labelled each photocopy with such explanatory messages as "Shows applicant is a registered owner of handguns in Canada. This means he has passed stringent background and criminal record checks."
Is all this stuff really necessary? Maybe not, but when he phoned BATF to give them a change of fax number, they told him that they had found all these photocopies useful: "It told us you're a serious shooter and that you're not applying for the permit for the sake of having one."
ENTERING THE U.S.
Now, armed with your BATF permit, plus the originals of all your Canadian permits, all your club and association memberships, and your registration for the FAS event you're attending, you can head for the border. As well, you'll need your passport or other border-crossing I.D. as usual.
The Peace Arch crossing is a good bet, as U.S. staff there now are generally familiar with the BATF permits and the procedures. One of our students finds it pays off to keep his BATF permit and other paperwork handy on the front seat.
Do not use the Nexus lane. True, the fact you've got a Nexus permit means you've survived a criminal record check back to your date of birth, but you are simply not permitted to take firearms through the Nexus lane. Instead, join the lineup at a regular lane.
When your turn comes up, hand the U.S. border official your passport and say, clearly: "I have to tell you that I have a handgun and ammunition in the trunk. I am on my way to the Firearms Academy of Seattle for a shooting event." Now hold up, or offer, your BATF permit, and add: "Here is my BATF permit." You may be asked to take your gun and permit(s) into the border station for inspection. If so, cooperate politely in all respects, and you should be out of there in five minutes or less.
Advice from a member of the U.S. Border Patrol: "While you may have a BATF permit, you still do not have a right to bring a gun into the United States. It is a privilege extended to you as a Canadian, to take part in sanctioned shooting events. If the red tape or the security procedures get to you, keep your cool. We don't want to reject you and send you back home, but we will if you ask for it. And no smart-ass jokes, please, about guns, gunfights, terrorists, Bin Laden, or 'blowing away targets'."
In short: Look and sound professional. And be patient and cooperative.
Note: Technically speaking, once you're in the U.S. with your gun, you do not have to go home again right after the event at FAS. It's OK to stay down here for a vacation. However, the permits contemplate in intent only that you will attend the event and return home after it. It might be wise to do that, and to keep vacations and shooting trips separate.
RETURNING TO CANADA
Returning to Canada can be surprisingly easy, particularly if you have all your permits and paperwork handy on the front seat with you. Again, you may not use the Nexus lane, and must go through a regular customs lane.
And remember that, if you have made purchases in the U.S., you should be ready to declare them as usual.
Hand your passport to the Canadian customs officer at the booth, and announce: "I have to tell you that I have a handgun and ammunition in the trunk. I have been to the Firearms Academy of Seattle for a shooting event." Now hold up, or offer, your file of paperwork, and add: "I have all my Canadian permits, and my U.S. permit, here."
Chances are good you'll merely be asked the usual questions ("Where do you live, how long have you been away, what purchases have you made?) and simply sent on your way.
You may be asked, though, to go into the building for inspection of your permits or gun(s). Again, cooperate politely in all respects, and you should be out of there in five minutes or less.