Are you planning on travelling abroad with your firearms? Stuart Farr gives some guidance
The post-Christmas period, particularly January, is a time when many people start to think about and plan their holidays for the forthcoming year. Let’s face it, while the gloom of winter still hangs over us, it is an occupation that helps provide some respite from the cold, and it’s something we can look forward to when the better weather arrives.
In this ever-changing world in which we find ourselves, I also expect that the prospect of Brexit will encourage some British shooters to start thinking about booking their regular shooting holidays abroad – or even pushing the boat out on a first-time shooting trip before, as may well happen, the rules on transporting guns begin to shift and change. Even though Brexit is a certainty, what isn’t certain by any means is how the legal position will alter in the long term once the nature of our borders changes when we leave Europe’s free movement club.
The aim of this article is simply to provide some food for thought on the overall process of moving guns out of the country if you are, in fact, planning a shooting-related trip before the portcullis is finally lowered at the ports, tunnel and airports. Do bear in mind, however, that each case is individual to some extent and will depend on what you want to do, where you want to go, what you want to take and why you’re going.
If you want to go on a shooting holiday or participate in a competition in a country outside of the EU, you need to comply with the law and procedure of that particular territory. Similarly, there are specific restrictions and requirements if you wish
to travel to Northern Ireland, so do take time and care necessary to check and comply. Non-EU countries have disparate laws regarding the transport of firearms and unfortunately it is impossible for me to deal with them all within the confines of this article.
What I would say, however, is that preparation is key here. Start early, as the permissions you may need from your destination might not be easily forthcoming. They could even be in a foreign language and open to interpretation depending on where you go and how law enforcement is organised.
For those of you who intend to visit the EU, thankfully life is a little simpler – though not necessarily less time-consuming. The starting point is to obtain a European Firearms Pass (EFP). This is effectively a form of passport for your gun(s) and it will be issued by the chief officer in the police authority where you are resident and by which your normal shotgun or firearms certificate has been issued. They are only given to those who request them but ordinarily if you are the holder of a normal certificate, the issuing of an EFP cannot be refused. There is no fee and the EFP will only include those guns that you apply to have included on it – which is, in turn, limited to those that are already authorised under your certificate.
EFPs are issued in the same format across the EU and so are easily identifiable. You can apply for one at any time and they are usually only valid for as long as your normal certificate, the maximum being
The EFP will specify which category the relevant firearm falls under and will provide details of any EU state that requires the holder to obtain authorisation before taking a gun to that particular destination. It will also indicate which EU state(s) prohibit that particular firearm altogether.
So, with your EFP in hand, what to do next? Again, this is dependent on the country of destination. As a guide, you need to consider whether a particular permission is required and notification may need to be given in advance to a police authority in the area where you are travelling to. This might be facilitated with the help of a ‘sponsor’ in that country who can vouch for you and provide the authorities with information and confirmation as to where you will shoot, what you will shoot and where the gun will be stored and so forth.
Again, it pays to check the system at your destination and get the process started as early as possible. The EFP will help to get you and the gun there but if you want to stay and shoot, you will need to deal with the processes in the country.
The problems appear when it comes to thinking about your mode of transport, so let’s be frank about this. It is not easy to transport a gun across the borders of member states without your own transport. The reality is that transport providers don’t particularly like to move guns because of the perceived increased risks it involves.
In fact, many simply won’t do it. The principal mode of transport, therefore, tends to be ferries.
Thankfully, there is plenty of advice available around the internet on how to transport guns via ferry and the shooting organisations are a good place to start. Here are a few considerations to get you on your way.
You will need to ensure that you have your shotgun and/or firearms certificate with you and your EFP at all times while you are travelling abroad.
Generally speaking, if you are taking a shotgun, you are permitted to carry a maximum of 1,000 cartridges in a vehicle, provided they are in their manufacturer’s original packaging. Quantities larger than this need to be declared.
You are strongly recommended to prebook your trip and inform the travel operator of your intention to travel with a gun and ammunition and the relevant destination. The ammunition, in particular, may be subject to restrictions in the country of destination and so at that point relevant checks can be made. Be mindful of the fact that if you are taking your vehicle through several EU states in order to reach your final destination – it is worth checking the individual requirements just in case you are stopped for any reason.
Certificate holders are strongly advised to comply with the stipulations for the secure storage of firearms and ammunition in their vehicle. In particular, no shooting equipment should be visible when being transported in a vehicle.
It is best to ensure that the local port authority security has been informed of what you are carrying. This will help to ensure a smooth passage through the port areas under their jurisdiction.
In terms of firearm security generally while you are travelling, the Firearms Security Handbook produced by the Home Office is as good a place to start as any. It contains guidance, for example, on the transport of guns by road and tells us that the vehicle needs to be fitted with an alarm or immobiliser and should be parked in such a position as to frustrate an unlawful entry. It also advises on keeping firearms in locked boots or in storage areas where the contents are covered or concealed.
The guidance also offers suggestions on what to do with the gun itself – it might be stripped down with the forend being removed and/or kept separately from the barrels and action. It could also be secured with portable devices such as cables.
Be that as it may, the onus is on you to decide what appropriate form of security to take based on your circumstances, so be prepared and do not assume that what is permissible in the UK will be accepted at your destination. While it is sometimes helpful to appreciate that we have some of the strictest gun laws around, that is not to say that other countries don’t have their own nuances and preferences based around their own environments, cultures and attitudes to firearms.
If you intend to embark on your first planned trip, I appreciate much of this may seem daunting. However, as I have said, there is plenty of good advice around and an amount of care and research in good time beforehand will do much to see you along your way.