By Tim Devaney - 07/12/14 10:01 PM EDT
Gun owners are taking on the Obama administration over a new rule they say would trample their Second Amendment rights by banning the sale of antique firearms that contain endangered elephant ivory.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) announced Friday it is joining the fight to rollback the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s controversial ivory ban, just months after musicians began complaining about the policy.
“While the goal of restricting illegal commerce in endangered species is laudable, the effects of the ivory ban would be disastrous for American firearms owners and sportsmen, as well as anyone else who currently owns ivory,” said Cox, who backed Republican efforts to reverse the ivory ban through legislation.
While modern guns do not contain ivory, the grips on many antique guns do, as it was considered fashionable in the 1800s and early 1900s. Gun rights groups say the rule could freeze up the market for collectors of antique firearms.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the ivory ban earlier this year in an effort to crack down on illegal animal tracking. The FWS reasoned that closing the market for elephant ivory would remove the financial incentive for poachers.
But critics say the rule unfairly limits the sale of antique items, such as guns and musical instruments, that were made with ivory long before elephant poaching was outlawed in 1976. They argue that trading the antiques does not contribute to the slaughter of elephants and should be permitted.
“The irony is that the proposed ban would do virtually nothing to protect elephants, but could instead make law-abiding Americans potential criminals overnight,” Cox said.
Congress is getting involved in the issue.
The NRA has found support from Republicans who are pushing bills in the House and Senate that would rollback the ivory ban. On Thursday, Reps. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Jeff Miller (Fla.) introduced the Lawful Ivory Protection Act in the House, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) followed suit in the upper chamber.
The bills would reverse the ivory rule and allow gun owners to sell antique firearms that contain ivory from before the 1976 ban. But it would not allow gun manufacturers to make firearms with newly acquired ivory.
Musicians have already won a partial exemption from the ivory ban that allows them to travel with their instruments overseas. Many older stringed instruments, such as cellos and violins, contain ivory, but musicians had been unable to perform in foreign orchestras because the rule would have allowed customs officials to confiscate their instruments when they returned to the U.S.
The FWS granted the musicians a travel exemption, but they are still barred from selling antiques that contain ivory — and the same limitation applies for gun collectors.
Some say the ivory ban could have bigger implications for gun owners than just limiting collectors.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of American, a gun rights lobbying group, said the ban “infringes” on people’s right to bear arms.
“It’s clearly an infringement on the Second Amendment,” Pratt said. “When you restrict the trade of firearms, that’s right in the middle of ‘shall not be infringed.’ ”
While the ban’s impact on gun owners may be small, because it only deals with antique guns and not modern guns, Rep. Miller suggested it is no less significant.
“I will grant you that a very small portion of firearms have ivory inlays or grips on them,” Miller said. “However, if you are a collector of antique Colt pistols (or other old guns), this could seriously impact your Second Amendment rights.”
David Boone owns a gun shop in Washington state that takes elephant ivory which was obtained legally and fashions it into pistol grips. He projects the ivory ban would take away 80 percent of his sales.
“It would be the end of our business as we know it,” said Boone, who is a distant relative of the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone.
Pratt is concerned the Obama administration may be using the ivory ban as a backhanded way of pushing a gun control agenda.
“If they’re able to get away with this step, they will take others,” Pratt said. “They will just start restricting the trade of firearms more generally. They’ve been here and there making their moves.”