By Tim Devaney - 07/31/14 03:37 PM EDT
GOP lawmakers are "betraying the party's mascot" with legislation that would roll back protections for endangered African elephants, animal rights activists say.
More than 75,000 people have signed a petition protesting the Republican-backed Lawful Ivory Protection Act, which the animal rights activists say would encourage elephant poaching by establishing a market for ivory trade in the U.S.
Now, activists are pointing out the ivory irony.
"For years, the GOP has proudly held up the elephant as a mascot for their party — but when it comes to protecting these gentle giants, it seems Republican lawmakers are willing to betray this majestic animal," the petition says.
"It is unbelievable that congressional Republicans are coming out against regulating the trade in elephant ivory and protecting these endangered species," it added.
The GOP bill comes in response to a new rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that bans the trade of all ivory, including ivory that was obtained legally decades ago before rules against poaching elephants came about.
That means that antique guns and musical instruments that were made with ivory at a time when it was fashionable in the 19th and early 20th centuries could no longer be sold, even though the owners could still pass them on to family members.
Republicans say it is unfair to retrospectively ban the sale of antique items contain legally acquired ivory, but the FWS and many animal rights activists argue even demand for antique items encourages poachers to continue killing elephants and "undermines the attempt to crack down on the demand for poached, illegal ivory."
"The lives of elephants are so much more important than the ability of collectors to buy and sell antique firearms," the petition says.
But this comes as little comfort to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), sponsor of the Lawful Ivory Protection Act, who last week warned the Obama administration may be trying to "take away our guns" with the ivory ban.
"For those of us who are concerned that this administration is trying to take away our guns, this regulation could actually do that," Alexander said last week, speaking on the Senate floor about his bill.
"If this regulation is approved, when you decide to sell a gun, a guitar or anything else across state lines that contains African elephant ivory, the government would actually take them away — even if you inherited them or bought them at a time when the sale of ivory was not illegal," he added.