The Pickering Chronicles #13 – Transporting Firearms

“. . . strict rules govern how passengers are supposed to handle them.”
– TSA

LESSON #1

Know the rules of the jurisdiction where you live.
Know the rules of your carrier(s)
Know the rules of any jurisdiction along the way.
Know the rules of the jurisdiction at your destination.
Don’t break the rules.

I travelled to Zimbabwe with the following firearms:
O Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 chambered in .375 H&H
O Ruger American chambered in .223
O Ruger 10-22
O Remington 870 20 gauge shotgun

The firearms were put into three hard cases. Each case had four (4) external padlocks to keep the firearms safe. Each firearm had either a trigger lock or a cable lock. Being especially careful, I pulled the bolts on the bolt action rifles, separated them from the rifles by putting the bolts in my backpack. I also put one empty ten round .22lr magazine in the backpack.

In addition to the firearms I took 100 rounds of 20 gauge shotgun shells, as allowed for import to Zimbabwe. These were in their original packaging and I taped the boxes together into one large brick that I put into a carry-on sized piece of luggage locked with a padlock. Ammo and guns separate.

We flew from Calgary to Vancouver, B.C., on WestJet Airline. From Vancouver, B.C., we flew on Cathay Pacific Airlines to Hong Kong where my wife disembarked, while I expected to remain in transit to get on another Cathay Pacific flight to continue on to Johannesburg, South Africa. From there I transferred to South African Air to Harare, Zimbabwe.

IN CALGARY

We got to the airport in what I thought was plenty of time to deliver our luggage, get boarding passes, get through security and have time for a nice breakfast.

I was wrong.

I filled out airline forms for each of the firearms plus the ammunition and each item carrying firearm or ammo was duly tagged. I then had to separate the luggage into the pieces that had no firearms or ammo, which went onto the belt for normal luggage, and the “weaponry” that went separately. These I had to take to the oversized luggage kiosk where the rifle cases and the bag with ammo each went through an x-ray machine to confirm its contents. Paperwork done, check-in luggage accepted, we proceeded to the security lines.

My wife went first, placing her bag onto the belt for x-ray. She cleared, passed through the metal detector, and I followed. As she collected her bag and purse I was waved to one side. “Is this your backpack, Sir?” I was asked by one of the inspectors.

“Sir, if you’ll just stay here a moment we want to put this through the machine again.”

“Sure, no problem,” I said.

The bag came back through the machine. They brought it over to me and indicated that they were going to physically check its contents. They rummaged around until I realized they were probably looking for a chunk of metal (a bolt). I told them, “I think I know what you’re looking for. Let me help you.”

I was told to stand back. Now I had two inspectors. They pulled one of the bolts out of my bag and ferreted around for more. In the blink of an eye I had a Supervisor on hand in addition to the two inspectors. Shortly, I had two RCMP officers with me and, shortly after that we were joined by an Ordinance Officer. I was surrounded by six officials, all examining two bolts and an empty magazine.

With great gravity they informed me that it was against airline policy or government regulations or something for me to carry on any firearm parts. They suggested that I return to the ticket counter, retrieve my bags, and put the items in luggage. I protested that I was about to miss my airplane and I needed to make an international connection in Vancouver.

They huddled for a time, while my wife shifted her weight from foot to foot and complained that, “I knew you should never travel with a firearm. You’re just asking for trouble.”

I kept my mouth shut.

The officers came out of their huddle and, lucky for me, the Ordinance Officer convinced the WestJet staff that having a rifle bolt in my backpack was unlikely to endanger the pilot or the other passengers. I was allowed to proceed with the admonition that, as soon as I collected my bags in Vancouver, I should put all the parts back into my check-in luggage.

IN VANCOUVER

We got to the Cathay Pacific counter and we were told that I could not take any firearms into Hong Kong. I explained that I was in transit only. Next, I was asked if I had obtained permission from the airline to put the firearms on their airplane. I didn’t know that that was necessary. Lucky for me, Cathay Pacific has excellent customer service. The lady at the counter somehow arranged immediately for permission to be granted to me to transport the firearms. BUT, she explained, I needed permission from the Hong Kong Airport Authority to bring firearms through their facility. She told me, “We need to telex them for permission.” Otherwise, I could not put them on the aircraft. I didn’t realize anyone still used telex.

Without going into details, we made it to our flight, but only because the counter lady closed shop and escorted us all the way to the boarding gate.

IN HONG KONG

I got Cathay Pacific’s assistance to help my wife out of the baggage area to meet a family member while I was escorted to a Customs Office where I spent an hour trying to match some 17 keys with their respective locks so that all my goods could be detected, inspected, fondled, respected, and returned to their cases with another layer of paperwork. For some unexplained reason they insisted to pull the ammo out of the bag it was in, and package and wrap it separately.

IN JOHANNESBURG

No problem! My bags were transferred to the local airline with no problem.

IN HARARE

Chen Wei is connected enough that he met me well inside the arrival area — at the immigration counter. I cleared immigration. We both expected to be out of the terminal in five minutes, with his connections, but we failed to anticipate that we would meet a fresh, new Customs Inspector on her second day at work. After almost an hour we left the airport with a receipt, no firearms and no ammo.

It took Chen Wei’s people twelve (12) days to retrieve the rifles and ammo. I had planned to use the Weatherby .375 H&H on my hunt, but ‘twas not to be.

I can’t emphasize it enough: CHECK THE RULES. And bring copies of the rules if you can pull them off the internet. My experience at the USA border with Canada is that the DHS/Customs people’s knowledge of the regulations varies from “a little bit” to “nothing.”

One more thing: borders are borders. If you travel from Texas to Oregon, through California, you pass through multiple jurisdictions and they EACH have their own rules.

KNOW WHAT THE RULES ARE BEFORE YOU TRAVEL.

The last thing you need is to be stopped for a faulty tail light, and then find out you’ve violated local gun laws through ignorance.

 

 


Find the entire series here:  The Pickering Chronicles

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