WASHINGTON (AP) -- People driving through Canada with rifles or shotguns will have to make a written declaration describing their guns and pay a fee of roughly $33 to Canadian Customs starting Jan. 1.
The new requirement is part of nationwide gun owner licensing and registration law passed by Parliament in 1995.
Visitors who pay the fee and declare their guns will be given a firearms declaration that serves as their license while in Canada.
Currently, people visiting or passing through Canada can verbally declare their long guns to border officers and pay no fee. For decades, Canada has prohibited visitors from bringing in handguns without prior approval from the chief firearms officer in the provinces to be visited.
Canada's Department of Justice Web site says the new form for rifles and shotguns will ask for ''basic information about yourself, your destination in Canada, and your reason for bringing a firearm into Canada.''
''Background checks, including a criminal history search, will be conducted,'' the Web site states.
A visitor's gun license will be good for a year, and will cover multiple weapons.
''You're still going to have to check with agents when you cross the border, but you are not going to get charged $50 (Canadian, about $33 U.S. at current exchange rates) every time,'' said David Austin, spokesman for the Canadian Firearms Centre in Ottawa.
Austin said he didn't know how many people cross the U.S.-Canada borders with guns each year.
Pam Chappell, with the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., described the charge of $50 Canadian as ''a cost recovery fee, that's all.''
Visitors to Canada actually will pay a little less initially for their gun licenses than will many Canadians. By Jan. 1, Canadians who want to own guns must buy a $60 (Canadian) ''possession and acquisition'' license, good for five years. ''Sustenance hunters'' don't have to pay the fee.
Austin said he expects some frequent American visitors will just buy Canadian gun licenses, which will be legal, rather than obtain or renew visitors' licenses each time they cross the borders.
In addition to obtaining licenses, Canadian gun owners must register all their firearms by Jan. 1, 2003.
''We will now have a record, a computerized database, of all firearms in the country,'' Austin said. ''If a firearm is stolen and recovered, we can trace it back to the owner. If police are responding to a call at a residence, they can check a database to see if anyone in the residence has firearms before they approach it.''
Canada's Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the licensing and registration requirements in a June 15 decision.
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