Importing into US


I was sent this by a fellow collector here in Australia.

“Ran across this on one of the weapons forums. It’s one person explaining what he recently ran into. He indicates that it’s at least still legal to own over here for now.
With the availability of inert ordnance (Shell cases, projectiles, fuzes, primer trains) on the forum (and other places on the internet such as Ebay and Gun Broker) it is probably a good time to mention that in the US, ATF Imports has recently reinterpreted the rules regarding import of Inert Ordnance.
Any Post-1898 inert ordnance importation is now prohibited. This means WW1 and WW2 shell cases, projectiles and fuzes. As I understand it from ATF Imports, only modern ordnance that has a current military or police application can be imported with an approved ATF Form-6. This leaves no legal way to bring in collectable inert ordnance from the WW1 and WW2 Eras. This also seems to include pre-1898 inert ordnance that continued into production past 1898. In other words almost all WW1 Era Ordnance. I found this out the hard way, having a large collection of Inert WW1 shell cases, projectiles, and fuzes confiscated about a year ago as they were imported from the UK to the US. This was despite the shipment being correctly labeled and declared. ATF Imports has told me that the only post-1898 exception is inert ordnance/ammunition that is sectioned by cutting lengthwise and disposing of the cut out section.
As I understand it, ownership of Inert Ordnance and shipment of Inert Ordnance within the US is still legal, just not importation into the US from any other nation.
In the case of my former 7,7cm lFK 1898 n/A, 10,5cm lFH 1898/09 Inert shell cases, Inert projectiles, and Inert fuzes from the UK deal; I was able to work out an agreement with ATF and US Customs to turn them over to the US Army, Artillery Museum at Fort Sill. At least that way, these historic pieces were not destroyed”

Can anyone verify the status of this please?
Apparently came from a weapons/ collectors forum???

Regards Ozzi.


I can confirm that the identical story was told to me by a very advanced and highly respected U.S. collector nearly a year ago. I assume it is the same person and same event, so at least the story seems to be authentic.

He is knowledgeable and diligent about dealing with BATFE rules and it seems that even honest efforts at compliance still leave you vulnerable. A less knowledgeable and informed person could easily end up being in deep legal trouble, and the event turned into exaggerated media releases about “terrorist bomb cell busted by vigilant(e) BATFE bureaucrats.”

Frankly the complexities of import/export are such that it is easier to just not do any at all.


This issue is a misinterpretation of a certain federal law regarding ordnance importation and how the BATFE enforces it. The issue is the term “importation”. This word has a specific definition which implies importation at a commercial level for profit i.e. (containers or pallets of inert components). Buying an empty artillery shell from outside of the U.S. on Ebay and having it shipped to you is not restricted by any means. A 12-year old can legally do this in the U.S. actually. I believe inert components brought into the U.S. in mass-quantity did not used to be subject to this “importation” law which is why it seems like a new rule to some which might affect any quantity, commercial or not.

This same issue is also confused with “manufacturing” which specifically implies a commercial-level for-profit operation. It is a simple mistake to make in both the case of importation or manufacturing since these obscure laws do not make this point obvious, and you have to dig for it. Further more, when you try to make contact with the BATFE and ask about this you can get different answers, and they may refer to the restriction regarding commercial “importation” since that is the only kind of importation they know. There is no, and has been no enforcement of inert projectile or case importation in the U.S. that I know of.

The methods of how the BATFE enforces the laws may have been modified however post- 9/11, to allow them a greater breadth of investigatory strength to head-off potential terrorist or safety issues though, who knows. They have not targeted any collectors to my knowledge. I always point to how they have never, and probably will never even bother to enforce live ammunition domestic shipments in the U.S. mail which is illegal. I continue to receive cartridges in the mail (not by my asking), and have for years, without a peep from any enforcement. I assume others do as well.


Alas, it may be a “misinterpretation of a certain federal law” but when BATFE seizes the shipment, will not release it and was about to destroy it, who are you going to call? Ghostbusters?

If a guy already has a WW1 German limber (and legally registered gun) and wanted to fill the limber for his collection, not for resale, it would appear your interpretation would be correct. But, when BATFE disagrees, and has the stuff in their possession and are about to destroy it all, there is no recourse. In this case it was remarkable that he was able to convince the BATFE to at least turn the stuff over to a museum.

It is nearly impossible for an individual to prevail against a federal agency, especially one with a very long and “colorful” past history of enforcement actions, when their interpretation is different than what an individual sees in the black letter of the law. With good lawyers running about $500 per hour, the price to just enter into a fight to win a case is probably going to start at a base cost of $50,000, and only go up. Against an agency whose lawyers are already paid for, with no limits on the time they can commit to a case.


Matt may be correct, but as john pointed out, can you afford to prove your point? How much are the goods worth compared to the cost of the fight? Besides, as you are trying to find a lawyer to take the case the BATFE will most likely already have
disposed" of the “offending items” in the interest of safety.

The only solution I see, and it is almost nonexistent, is to keep lobbying your congress people to pass a detailed law in favor or collectors. What do you think the chances are of that happening?


I can see how a few crates worth of artillery shells, being collector quality and still having their projectiles, albeit no propellant or explosive would cause concern when found at import, but I am thinking in terms of small quantity in any caliber and calibers under .50 which must comprise over 95% of material shipped-in such as this. I’m actually shocked that they found it since so much stuff like this cannot be inspected and is only randomly checked, even when improperly marked as being possibly live, and not inert.

When receiving stuff like this into the country it is very important to have it marked inert all over the outside and inside of the package, and if possible, to have the projectiles separated from the cases. Also having a typed letter in the box with all explanations and contact info for clarification. Any agent(s) who misinterprets that should be re-assigned and educated on the matter. Ultimately though - I know, you can’t fight city hall.


Howdy Fellas,

Thanks for your comments, the article or information regarding my initial report may well be a year old as I cannot verify the original source. Thanks again for clarifying this.

As for misinterpretation of laws, this happens all the time when dealing with individuals & their own interpretation of a particular law.

How is it though that BATFE have the knowledge & resources available to be able to do their job, but cannot distinguish between relic, obsolete collectible ammo & commercial modern items in quantities of the same item that would constitute “commercial use”?

I think it might be a case of “easier to put it all in the same basket” to deal with it rather than distinguish between collectible & commercial use items!

There is a good opportunity for IAA to make representation to BATFE so that a policy ruling can be made to deferentiate between collectible ordnance & commercial use items.

Regards Ozzi.