Traveling With Guns Almost Became a Tangle of Red Tape

U.S. Customs and Border Protection considered taking away an exemption that allows American citizens to travel internationally with guns—a hunter, shooting-sports competitor without having to do the same paperwork required by a manufacturer exporting guns.

A rule change from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) almost made it very difficult for hunters, shooting-sports competitors, and anyone else who wants to travel internationally with firearms and ammunition.

Travelling with rifles and handguns outside of the U.S. technically requires a license from the U.S. State Department, but an exemption has long been in effect for U.S. citizens who temporarily travel with up to three firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Those travelling to other countries to hunt or to participate in shooting competitions can bring their own firearms without all the red tape that is required of a commercial enterprise.

CBP ended the exemption recently, thus forcing Americans travelling abroad with guns to comply with commercial export requirements. Under these rules, anyone who would want to travel with a gun internationally would have to register the firearm(s) in the federal government’s Automated Export System (AES). They would also have to complete forms and provide a federal transaction number to CBP.

The AES is designed for commercial exporters and requires all users to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS in order to access the system. According to the IRS, however, EINs are issued for business purposes. Applicants have to specify a business reason for obtaining an EIN.

Basically, the bureaucracy was about to make it very difficult for gun owners who want to hunt or shoot in a competition internationally to bring their own guns. Thankfully, lobbying from the National Rifle Association and action from Congress prompted the CBP last month to keep the travel exemption in place.

Now travelers simply must visit a U.S. Customs office at some point before departure and provide information about their firearms on a form, known as the 4457.

It will be signed or stamped by a Customs official. Upon returning to the U.S., a gun owner can use this form to verify prior possession of the firearms in the U.S.