There has been a global cry to end the sale of ivory and related items as the populations of elephants and rhinos have been depleted to terrifying levels due to poaching. The increased demand for ivory-made products in China and the United States has led to a lucrative and often underground worldwide trade that funds conflicts in the nations these animals live in, as well as terrorism. As activists lobby and petition state governments to ban the sale and import of ivory, not surprisingly game hunters and those who profit from the trade fight back. However, in the United States, it is the stealth campaign of the National Rifle Association that has worked the hardest to push back against the ban.
When the Obama Administration announced proposed rules to revise the Endangered Species Act to ban nearly all imports and sale of elephant ivory, the NRA immediately began lobbying Congress to stop the rule from going forward. Comments on the changes closed on September 28, 2015, and they will be reviewed as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalizes the rules (and do not need Congress’ approval to be implemented). As the rule stands now, raw ivory is banned and items containing ivory that were lawfully imported prior to January 18, 1990 (1975 if it’s from an Asian elephant) can be lawfully sold across state lines. It bans all commercial imports of ivory made items, with exceptions for antiques, certain musical instruments, sports hunted trophies and imports for law enforcement or scientific purposes.
While it was popular in the 1800s and early 1900s to make guns with ivory handles and similar embellishments, the existing ones are largely antiques and are protected under the rules as long as they are at least 100 years old or older. However, the NRA claims that this restriction puts an undue burden on sellers, who will now be required to authenticate that the firearm is indeed an antique. Furthermore, they say such rules would also make it impossible for owners of these antiques to sell those that were restored or to repair the ivory parts.
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When legislation was introduced in California to close a state loophole that still allowed the importation of ivory and items made with it prior to 1977, the NRA argued similar points. Like the proposed federal rules, California’s has an exception for antique guns. In a statement after Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law in October, which bans ivory from ten different animals, the organization said the exception was not enough: “While the NRA stands in opposition to the illegal ivory trade and poaching, banning the trade and sale of legally owned, pre-ban ivory will not save any elephants and is simply a symbolic measure that deprives law-abiding citizens of property that was obtained legally and in good faith.”
However, that isn’t exactly true.
Investigations have shown that the antique loophole has often been used as a cover for illegal ivory. It is impossible to tell how old ivory is without scientific testing and, therefore, a blanket ban is seen as the best way to reduce the amount of illegal trade. For owners and importers that can verify with the required documentation that their antique is indeed at least 100-years-old, the items will be allowed.
It also doesn’t prohibit family heirlooms from being passed on or transported within the United States. If an owner wishes to sell an antique, yes, they would have to pay for the scientific testing or provide other authenticating evidence of its status. While it may seem cumbersome for the small percentage of gun owners that may run into problems, it is specifically designed to be difficult in order to curb illegal trade. It is a small price to pay to reduce the number of people that are killed in pursuit of this luxury, and prevent the extinction of some of nature’s most magnificent creatures.