Steve Shackleford Blog

Ivory Ban Opponents Make Advances

Newton ancient ivory knife.

Ron Newton’s bowie features an ancient ivory handle. (PointSeven image)

Massachusetts and New Jersey made advances in the fight against each state’s ivory ban proponents over the past two weeks.

Opponents of the Massachusetts ivory ban outnumbered the proponents in a Nov. 17 hearing before the state’s Joint Committee on Environment. In other words, there were many more legitimate business people there—scrimshanders, musicians, antique dealers, etc.—than animal activists, and that’s a good thing for people interested in maintaining a legal ivory trade in the state.

The ban’s opponents gave many examples of art and culturally significant antiques that would needlessly be rendered worthless under the ban. The committee seemed to acknowledge the beauty and distinctiveness of the antiques that would be outlawed, and that an all-encompassing ban was unnecessarily broad. The activists commented on the “different tone” and the concern the committee showed for scrimshaw and antiques. Many of the questions asked related to creating legal exceptions to the ban.

To submit testimony by e-mail, send your e-mail to all of the following Massachusetts House members: Paul.Schmid@mahouse.gov; Brian.Mannal@mahouse.gov; Robert.Koczera@mahouse.gov; Mary.Keefe@mahouse.gov; Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov; james.kelcourse@mahouse.gov; James.Cantwell@mahouse.gov; Josh.Cutler@mahouse.gov; Jay.Livingstone@mahouse.gov; and Donald.Berthiaume@mahouse.gov. For the state Senate, e-mail Henry Kahn, legislative director and general counsel in Sen. Gobi’s office, at Henry.Kahn@MAsenate.gov and he will distribute your e-mail to the state Senate’s members.

The Massachusetts developments followed on the heels of the chaotic hearing on the Big 5 African Species ban before the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Nov. 10. The oppressive bill heard before the committee would have made possession of ivory a criminal offense punishable by three-to-five years in prison and a $5,000 to $50,000 fine. It also would have targeted other wildlife materials, including varieties of mother-of-pearl, shark’s teeth and many more. Thanks in no small part to the invaluable help of Knife Rights and Doug Ritter, written criticisms of the ban read to the committee helped result in a watered-down version of the bill that, among others, exempted ivory and rhino horn and no longer requires ivory owners to comply with the bill’s new possession prohibition and certification requirements; dramatically reduced the number of species covered from 11,800 to around 10; and slashed the penalty for failing to comply with their certification requirements from felony-level penalties to a civil penalty.

Despite the watering down of it, the New Jersey bill is still a bad one and represents a Pyrrhic victory of sorts. Though ivory was excluded, the bill still constitutes unconstitutional taking by criminalizing commercial trade and possession of otherwise legal private property without just compensation. It imposes taxes on those who lawfully possess wildlife through its certification requirements that remain in place, and manages to include additional species with no evidence of a connection between New Jersey and the targeted items. Finally, its one-size-fits-all-prohibition style strips wildlife of all commercial value to local African countries and communities best suited to protect them.

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