In 1989, international trade of ivory was outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Until international trade was outlawed, billions of dollars in legally imported ivory would enter the country each year. Further restricting ivory trade within individual states will only serve to limit the ability of sportsmen and women to pass on cherished antique firearms and knives to future generations.
In 1989, the international trade of ivory was outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Until international trade was outlawed, billions of dollars in legally imported ivory would enter the country each year. In 2014, ivory trade was further restricted when former President Barack Obama entered an agreement between China and the United States to enact “nearly a complete ban on ivory import and export.” That same year, New Jersey and New York became the first states to enact statewide ivory trade, import, and export restrictions. Since then, approximately two dozen other states have pursued misguided ivory bans.
In addition to CITES, several federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, and the African Elephant Conservation Act, already enact extensive restrictions on the importation, possession, and trade of endangered and threatened species and their parts, which includes ivory. Existing state laws protect local wildlife and prohibit the possession of any animal product from another country where wildlife is known to have been taken illegally.
The vast majority of individuals currently in possession of ivory products include antique enthusiasts, hunters, firearm collectors, and musicians that have acquired historically significant products over decades through the purchase, trade, or inheritance of these goods. Many of these items have been legally acquired in good faith or handed down to current owners through informal transactions with nothing resembling a paper trail to document a change of possession. State bans on the domestic trade of legally obtained ivory punish law-abiding citizens and do little to combat poaching and the trade of illegally acquired animal parts.
Points of Interest
- Former President Barack Obama issued an executive order on July 1, 2013, declaring a near-complete ban on international commercial trade in elephant ivory, and in July 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s revisions to the Endangered Species Act went into effect, further restricting the international import and export of African elephant ivory.
- Ten states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that ban the trade of ivory, with Vermont most recently prohibiting the sale, purchase, barter, and possession with intent to sell of any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn product.
- Ivory bans affect millions of individuals and small businesses, including collectors of antiques, firearms, knives, and musical instruments.
- Several states have attempted to pass ivory bans that provide exemptions for antiques that are at least 100 years old. However, documentation of antique items is rarely available, and many antiques are restored or repaired with ivory that was legally obtained more recently.
- In early 2020, the United States implemented restrictions on archeological items that include items made of ivory from Yemen (Reg. 98563) and Jordan (Reg. 98562) that will be effect until 2024.
- Legislation (SB 1175) was introduced in California in 2020 that would prohibit the possession of parts or products from or made from specific African animals including but not limited to the African elephant and the black rhinoceros, and numerous states in 2021 (CT SB 62 and MA SB 576) sought to ban products made from or including ivory.
- In 2022, the UK passed a near-total ban on ivory. This ban does not grant blanket exceptions for antique items, only allowing certain registered items to be sold. Anyone seeking to sell ivory products or articles must register them through the government’s digital ivory service.
It is important to recognize and support the role that hunters and anglers have historically taken to pass legislation that governs access to fish and wildlife, which largely eliminated the commercial markets and trafficking of harvested animal parts to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations. Ivory ban advocates claim that these bans will save elephants and decrease poaching; however, ivory is already a highly regulated product of import in the United States. Further restricting ivory trade within individual states will only serve to limit the ability of sportsmen and women to pass on cherished antique firearms and knives to future generations.