Nearly seven years ago I posted a synopsis of my experience in importing firearms from Germany and Switzerland. Many of my readers here and elsewhere have sought and received my advice and assistance for following suit. This is an update based on the experience I have acquired since then.
- Research comparable values. Study all relevant web pages in the foreign top level domain of your concern. For example, in my case, an interest in the SIG P210 calls for all Kessler catalogs and price lists along with their counterparts from Hermann Historica. Here is a search query composed in accordance with my interests. Bear in mind that all long-distance purchases involve a risk. A few years ago, market prices abroad on items of my interest ran between a quarter and a half of market prices for comparable items stateside. This disparity made my risks well justified. Likewise in cases when such items couldn’t be had locally for love or money. As more of our compatriots enter the market, prices tend to level internationally. If you can find the guns you want stateside, you are probably better off avoiding the import game.
- Find an export agent. Your best bet for finding a dealer and/or an agent willing and able to handle your firearms lot for export from the foreign country used to be online auctions. One Swiss dealer still selling his wares on Gunbroker is Andrew Zink of AfA. Regrettably, Andrew is no longer in the gun forwarding business. The situation is much better in Germany, where you can delegate these duties to Krico or Waffen Bock. It is up to you to make sure that your export agent understands the legal requirements for shipping firearms to the U.S. You must also make sure that he has the right connections to do so. For example, Swiss law no longer allows shipping firearms by mail. Many common carriers follow suit, refusing to accept firearm shipments, unless the sender cultivates a “special relationship” with them.
- Choose wisely. Generally you will have to pay for your firearms before you can apply for export and import licenses. Above all, you must be mindful of the “sporting purposes” clause that dates back to the 1968 Gun Control Act. This criterion for firearm imports was subsequently tightened through ATF “studies” dated July 1989, April 1998, and January 2011. Such executive branch import restrictions can and will be reinforced with little to no judicial oversight. You must study the ATF Factoring Criteria for Weapons allowed for import, and choose accordingly, consulting ATF Firearms and Ammunition Technology or a private expert in matters of any doubt. For example, although post-1898 Webley hinged frame revolvers are equipped with the requisite rebounding hammer, ATF has banned them from import after judging them to fail the drop test. Single action revolvers are admitted for import only on the condition of having a manually operated hammer block functionality, e.g one that is built into the cylinder pins of Italian Colt SAA replicas. All pistols must be equipped with “a positive manually operated safety device”, which in practice excludes the likes of the Tokarev TT33, despite their hammers functioning in that manner by design and execution, in the half-cock position. More generally, only civilian firearms and foreign military firearms that qualify as curios and relics may be imported. U.S. military firearms cannot be re-imported without a special dispensation from the State Department. Lastly, all firearms you import must be attested as having remained in the country from which you are exporting them for the past five years.
- Select a U.S.-based importer. I have been using Simpson Ltd as my importer. It is up to you to ensure that your importer mark your gun discreetly, e.g. on the side of the magazine well of an autopistol or in the frame window of a revolver. The practice of placing import markings under the grips is no longer allowed by the ATF, but a firearm marked while wearing grips of minimal coverage may well be subsequently refitted with larger grips that cover the import marks. There is no restriction on removing the import marks after taking delivery of the firearm. On the other hand, all firearms approved for import must have a serial number that is not repeated in any product line of their makers. Post-1898 firearms that haven’t been so marked by their maker must be permanently numbered or renumbered at the time of their import. Removing, obliterating, or altering the serial number is a federal crime under 27 CFR 478.34. Likewise, these actions are banned under numerous state laws.
- Consider personal imports. Research how to work with an ATF form 6 in conjunction with your personal FFL dealer in the United States. Find a German gun dealer to work on your behalf with BAFA, the German counterpart of ATF. Buy guns in Germany and have them shipped to your German dealer. Have your personal FFL dealer in the United States submit your filled out ATF Form 6 on your behalf. Have your German gun dealer submit your complete, approved Form 6 to BAFA on your behalf. Once approved, you must either have your German dealer ship your gun to your personal FFL dealer in the United States, or deliver it yourself. In the latter case, you will board a plane, fly to Germany, and have your gun dealer in Germany walk you through customs with your sealed cases containing firearms licensed for export from Germany and import to the United States. The cases will fly back with you to the U.S. as checked baggage. The U.S. Customs will inspect your firearms and paperwork. You will pay the import duty, whereupon the Customs will re-seal the cases with a customs seal. You will be given three days to bring the sealed cases to your personal FFL dealer, who has the authority to register the firearms in your name via ATF Form 4473. In this case, your personally imported firearms would not have to be import stamped, but they would have to remain in your possession for a minimum of one year.
- Understand the tariff classification and duty rate of firearms. See the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (2009), SECTION XIX: Chapter 93: Arms and ammunition; parts and accessories thereof. Special classification and duty treatment are afforded to firearms meeting the collector's interest and/or antique provisions of SECTION XXI: Chapter 97: Works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques. In addition to duty and applicable taxes, Customs collect user fees such as MPF (Merchandise Process Fee) equal to 0.21% of the entered value, with a $25 minimum, and a $485 maximum, and HMF (Harbor Maintenance Fee) equal to 0.125% of the entered value, with no minimum or maximum, and only applied on importations via seafreight.
- Consider using a broker. A licensed customs broker located at the port of entry will be able to submit the license and release documents locally. National Customs Brokers Association lists local associations of individual brokers. Port of entry information is available from U.S. Customs. Import brokers charge a fee for a Customs entry, plus charges for messenger services where applicable. Brokers may also charge a fee for government agency submissions, its amount depending on the complexity of the agency requirements. Additionally, a customs bond will be required, either as a continuous bond for ongoing imports over a calendar year or as single entry bonds per each instance of importation.
- Stay legal. ATF requires licensure of both the firearms importer and the firearms import lot via the ATF form 6 application. Of special importance on this application are items 19 through 24, which discuss the release of the firearms shipment from Customs custody. Also of importance is the form 6A, which must be presented to Customs at the time of its entry. ATF Form 6 is only good for occasional private imports via an FFL holder, for your personal use, but no one will stop you from reselling some of your personally imported guns after a while. However, in light of recent executive orders, it is imprudent to engage in personal transfers of firearms, except on a very occasional basis. In an overabundance of caution, I leave all imported guns that I plan to resell in the inventory of the 01 FFL dealer that receives my import shipments. Likewise, I consign to his inventory all guns that I choose to sell out of my personal collection. My dealer completes each sale on my behalf, for a fee. Better safe than sorry.