LTL carriers never went out of their way to court firearms manufacturers despite the financially desirable characteristics of hauling dense and heavy freight. In the wake of the spree of mass shootings in the U.S. over the past month, one prominent carrier is calling the lukewarm relationship mostly over.
Saia Inc., (NASDAQ: SAIA) disclosed on Thursday in an updated rules tariff that it would no longer carry assembled or disassembled firearms. The Saia ban covers the shipment of parts that could be assembled into a firearm once the carton was opened. Saia continues to transport individual parts such as gun barrels and grips. It also continues to transport ammunition, which is a separate commodity classification, under its hazardous materials rules.
Saia’s move reflects the long-standing wariness of LTL carriers to move firearms. Even before the latest spate of shootings, carriers have distanced themselves from the commodity. Firearms have never been a major segment of the typical LTL carrier’s portfolio. Today, it is easy to make the case for shedding the business due to negative optics, a general lack of comfort in hauling the product, greater liability and the risk of theft. That last issue is potentially serious given the multiple handoffs involved with LTL shipments and the number of people handling the product from pickup to delivery.
“I would feel safe to say that most LTL companies today would shy away from the commodity due to the risk,” Rex R. Oliver, a longtime executive at LTL carrier AAA Cooper Transport and now director of operations at 3PL Atlantic Logistics, said in an e-mail. Oliver’s former employer, now part of Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc., (NYSE: KNX), transported firearms for the U.S. military in the early 1980s, he said.
Oliver said that firearms today are more likely than ever to be transported under dedicated contract carriage, a contractual relationship that binds a shipper to tender freight in return for guaranteed truckload services over a multiyear period.
All things being equal, dedicated contract carriage is a more expensive way to ship goods than LTL. For a commodity like firearms, however, all things are not equal. Though dedicated contract carriage may be pricier than LTL, the enhanced security and reduced liability risk more than offset the higher shipping costs, according to a longtime LTL executive who sought anonymity.
Hauling firearms shipments has traditionally not been for the faint of heart. Another LTL executive who asked for anonymity said a former firm had a client that would ship pallets of weapons with “no more security than if it were shipping nuts and bolts. Handguns and sniper rifles would move on regular LTL networks.”
The executive said he was “shocked that the manufacturer didn’t require nor elect for anything special like guaranteed service or even extra insurance.”