American hunters preparing for African safaris and Canadian black bear hunts this spring can breathe a little easier knowing they won't have to wade through a sea of red tape to take a firearm with them.
On April 23, after meeting with representatives from the NRA, the firearm industry and sportsmen's groups, as well as key members of Congress, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it was suspending the sudden enforcement of a little-known 2012 rule change that altered the requirements for declaring personal firearms and ammunition for international travel.
“We are pleased that we have been able to reverse a bureaucratic nightmare that would have jeopardized the freedoms of law-abiding gun owners,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). “On behalf of our 5 million members, I want to thank Senator John Hoeven and Representatives John Carter and Chris Stewart for their work to protect American hunters and sport shooters from a web of bureaucratic red tape when traveling outside the United States.”
For years, Americans have been allowed to temporarily take up to three non-automatic firearms and as much as 1,000 rounds of ammunition abroad, without a permit, for personal use. The only requirement was that a U.S. Customs Form 4457 be obtained beforehand, a rather straightforward process that involved taking the firearm to a CBP office prior to departure, entering basic information about the firearm on the form, and having a CBP officer verify the gun's serial number and sign the form. The purpose of obtaining a Form 4457 is to establish ownership of property, be it a firearm, camera, computer or other personal item, before leaving the country in order to avoid paying import duties on expensive goods upon returning home.
However, the U.S. State Department changed the rules in 2012, adding a new requirement that travelers declare firearms by presenting documentation generated by the U.S. Commerce Department's Automated Export System. For unknown reasons, the rule change was not enforced until earlier this year.
The trouble is the Automated Export System is an online reporting tool designed for commercial exporters, not individual citizens, and requires entry of an Employer Identification Number (EIN). The State Department indicated that individuals could register with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as sole proprietors in order to obtain an EIN and use the system; however, according to the IRS, EINs are issued to businesses for tax purposes, and applicants must state a business reason for obtaining one. As previously noted by NRA-ILA, “This puts international travelers in the untenable position of having to make false declarations to the IRS in order to comply with State Department regulations and avoid enforcement actions by CBP.”
In announcing that it would suspend enforcement of the new rules, CBP affirmed that hunters will be able to return to the longstanding practice of utilizing a Form 4457 as the only documentation needed to travel abroad with a personal firearm. However, the prospect of an automated system is not gone altogether, as CBP noted that it is “working with our other government partners to modify the AES system and the reporting process to make a more user-friendly experience for individual travelers.”
To learn more about the NRA's efforts to resolve this issue, please visit nraila.org.