Jump to content
Brian Enos's Forums... Maku mozo!

Customs Experience: No One Has the Answer

Recommended Posts

Hello, I have a situation that may be of interest to you but

discovering the right answer is of great interest to me. Various state

and Fed government departments do not seem to know how to opine.

Please let me proceed to tell you.

I am a legal handgun owner and competitive shooter in San Diego. I was

planning to compete outside of the US and proactively contacted ATF to

confirm no additional documentation was required to re-enter the US

after the competition. ATF responded that all I would need to do is

prove ownership to the Customs Border Protection Officers (bill of


In July 2011, I flew to Buffalo, NY from California and then traveled

by car to Ontario, Canada for a shooting competition (I have all legal

permits for Canada also). Upon my return to the US border I declared

to the CBP Officer that I had my competition pistol in my luggage (in

locked, secured cases, etc) and was en route to the Buffalo airport

for a return flight to San Diego. I was immediately detained and told

I was breaking the state law by not having a New York handgun license.

I was told by CBP that I needed a license in "every" state I was going

to be traveling through with my firearm.

Agents thoroughly inspected the car and all of my luggage. As they

were doing this I was told I was going to be arrested by the NY State

Troopers, charged and have my handgun possessed and destroyed. As you

can imagine I was devastated by the entire affair and fearful for what

was ahead of me. Some of the border agents were polite and

professional while others commented that I had "no common sense", seem

to enjoy the threats and position of power they were entrusted with. I

was even told I should take up another sport.

Thankfully I had the ATF letter documenting my inquiry about

additional documentation and their response on the ownership point.

This averted the arrest but CBP told me I could not enter the US with

the gun and would have to return to Canada and leave it there, which I

proceeded to do. I should mention that the pistol was legally

purchased and registered in California. Since that time I have not

been able to return my competition handgun (a $1500 expense) to San

Diego for fear of detention, arrest and seizure.

Upon my return to San Diego I began to research this predicament. It

did not make sense to me that I would need a license for every state

to travel through, particularly in the case of NY where they only give

licenses to state residents thereby making it impossible for me to

compete in any NY state competitions. My research identified the

Firearm Owners' Protection Act (FOPA), Pub.L. 99-308, 100 Stat. 449,

enacted May 19, 1986, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 921. This seem to

contradict the CBP statement about having a license in every state a

gun owner would travel through. I was traveling from a jurisdiction

where I legally owned the handgun (California) to another jurisdiction

where I legally owned the handgun (Canada). I immediately contacted

ATF, NY State Troopers, Buffalo Police Firearm License Dept and the

State Attorney General's Office. To my surprise no one could give a

clear answer as to whether I was protected from prosecution by

referencing FOPA because I was traveling through NY from Canada. I was

in a legal "No Mans Land" and remain there today. I have traversed the

border a dozen times since July always triggering a swift and menacing

response; the car is surrounded by agents, a spike belt is thrown

under the car and I am escorted into secondary inspection (a delays of

hours) because of this initial incident. Some CBP Officers at the

border have not even heard of FOPA, so referencing it is of little

use. I have a file that is 1/4 inch thick of letters from ATF, NY

State Troopers, AG's Office, Buffalo Police, Congressman, etc, and

when I provide the package to the officers they simply stare at them.

My latest strategy was to have a gun store in Canada ship my pistol to a

store in California but after checking a dozen or so, I have not been able

to find one store that provides that service.

Any thoughts, references or direction pointing you may have will be

greatly appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know if this would work for you but how about having your firearm moved from Ontario to Alberta, then drive up through Montana and pick it up in Alberta and return to the USA? you will still be hassled by CBP (it took me two years to get off of their shit list) but you should be able to get your gun back home.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It doesn't sound right to me at all. I have several friends (Canadians that come here for matches and Americans that go there for matches) repeatedly without problems. It sounds like they are all just a bunch of morons over in Buffalo. They guys that I know all travel through Detroit/Windsor without problem. I will reference this to my friend that went to both the Canadian Nationals and the Ontario Provincials this last year (along with other local matches in Windsor).


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks all!! Many thanks actually. Better information in a day than going through the regular channels over the last six months!

I was thinking about the Detroit option and reviewed their gun laws which are much less restrictive than NY. I have also had Canadian friends that cross at Detroit with nothing but smiles. I don't want to be critical of the CBP but now that I am on the radar I hate to chance anything with them.

Thanks again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you haven't done so already, you might try contacting the NRA. They have resources and connections that none of us have. No organization on the planet knows more about the law as it relates to firearms than the NRA. They also have a Civil Rights Defense Fund that might take your case and handle it for you.


Best of luck. Hard to believe that kind of thing can happen to a United States citizen.

Edited by deacon12224
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, NY is the place to avoid. That state ignores the FOPA as much as they possibly can. Even CA is better about it. However, when returning to the US after an international match, I've never needed to declare the firearms that I took out of the country, so I don't. CBP has never had a problem with it when I've asked ("do I need to declare these?"). I do get the personal property form because it's so valuable overseas as a "US Gun Permit".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hindsight is 20/20 but you should of had an CBP form 4457. This is filled out by a customs agent before you leave the country. I flew to Australia in 06 for the World match and didn't have one. I got lucky. The guy asked if I had anything to declare and I said no, so he let me go. When I went to New Zealand for the Worlds in 08 I had the correct form. It was a hassle as they had to check all the info in the computer but it didn't take very long.

I have shot many matches in NY without any problems. Of course, I don't get anywhere near NYC. I was told that the guns had to be in a locked case with a trigger lock. The handgun license is for a resident of NY. I didn't need a license in CA when I shot the Steel Challenge when apparently as a resident of CA you need one.

As someone else said, enter the border somewhere other than NY.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Really thoughtful advice and experiences. Thanks.

I was thinking of visiting the CBP here in San Diego and ask them to opine after showing them the Michigan State laws. Any thoughts on that approach?

I'll definitely stay away from NY in the future and try to go through Detroit instead.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a previous member posted, the only thing you are required to have for US Customs is your Form 4457. It is proof that you owned/had the pistol before you left the country. That is in the only paperwork you have to have with you to re-enter the country for the Federal Government. Notice I said Federal Government and not State Government. State Government rules come into play and not all states are the same. States such as New York, California,Massachusetts and City-states such as Washington D.C and Chicago should be avoided when traveling with a firearm unless you have the proper paperwork from each entity and are sure you know what you are doing. And have all the documentation with you to prove it to them.

That is what you will need to come through Detroit. They are pretty used to us now at the Tunnel since that is where almost all the US guys come back and forth. If you need help, feel free to contact me. I do all the paperwork for the guys here that go accross and have written about it here and in Front Site magazine. I can also hook you up with the Canadian CFO office who approve your Canadian paperwork. They have been nothing but a great asset to work with. Hats off to them for being so gracious. They know me by accent when I call nowadays.

Best of luck with getting your property back. Let us know how that goes and what steps you have/had to take.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

  • Create New...