Human Rights

Inside the NRA's Bizarre Battle to Prevent a Ban on the Sale of Ivory in the US

Poachers are slaughtering elephants by the tens of thousands, but the NRA is more worried about American gun collectors.

The National Rifle Association is fighting a new ban on the sale of ivory in the United Sates, meant to protect Africa’s threatened wildlife, because they say it would be disastrous for gun owners.

The NRA is backing new legislation in Congress that would roll back the ivory ban and prevent any regulations under the Endangered Species Act from disrupting or restricting the sale of lawful ivory. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already made an exception to the ban for musicians, which allows them to have a travel exception for antique instruments made with ivory. However, the exception does not extend to the sale of antique instruments made with ivory.

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, told news site The Hill earlier this year, “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.” 

Many antique guns made in the 1800s and early 1900s are prized by collectors for their ivory grips.

Others gun rights groups went as far as to claim that the new ivory ban infringes on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. 

"For those of us who are concerned that this administration is trying to take away our guns, this regulation could actually do that," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) after introducing the Lawful Ivory Protection Act in the Senate. The bill is currently under review by the Committee on Environment and Public Works. A similar bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives.

“See, this is why we can’t have nice things. Like elephants,” Daily Show host Jon Stewart said of the Senate bill. “So I guess the only things that should be hurt here are giant land mammals and victims of African terrorism.”

The new ivory ban is meant to protect endangered elephants and rhinos in Africa, where poachers are slaughtering the animals by the thousands for their ivory and selling it on the black market. China is the largest market for illegal ivory, where it is considered a status symbol for wealthy Chinese. The United Sates is the world’s second-largest market for illegal wildlife artifacts.

Poachers have killed 100,000 Central African elephants in the last three years, resulting in a 64 percent drop in the animal’s population, according to a recent academic study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Meanwhile, the government of South Africa reported at least 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year.

Much of the money earned through black market ivory sales is used to fund armed extremist groups like Boko Haram in Africa.

Imported ivory has been banned in the United States since 1989. But earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service introduced a more restrictive ban on the sale of ivory, which would require merchants selling antiques made with ivory to prove beyond any doubt that the ivory was imported before the 1989 ban. 

The NRA said that the new, more restrictive ban would do nothing to protect endangered elephants and would only make otherwise law-abiding gun collectors into criminals.

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Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.