You’re looking at contraband here

What, the guns? These three beautifully engraved guns by the late Indiana engraving wizard Ben Shostle — a Luger, a Mauser, and a Colt — are being auctioned as a lot by Amoskeag Auction Company of Manchester, New Hampshire next month. But as it turns out, it’s not the guns: it’s the grips.

Amoskeag 6393-171 Shostle engraved Luger etc


The little .25 hammerless Colt 1908 is out of the woods. As you can see from the picture (and do embiggen it), the Browning-designed pocket pistol’s grips are mother-of-pearl.

But the grips of the other two guns are ivory. We’re reminded of the famous statement by George S. Patton Jr.: “Only a pimp in a whorehouse would have pearl grips on a handgun! My pistols’ grips are ivory.”


But as it turns out, there’s trouble with ivory.

Ivory is a natural material, which comes from the tasks of elephants. All three species’ tusks yield ivory, but the pure white, durable ivory we know on gun grips comes from African bush elephants, loxodonta africana. Because of habitat destruction and poaching, all elephants are endangered species. Therefore, traffic in newly-processed ivory has been banned for 25 years in the United States. In the rest of the civilized world, ivory that has been harvested in accordance with environmental and species-preservation best practices is still available for sale, with appropriate certifications. But the US does not accept that. So the only ivory you see on American guns is either old ivory, that predates the 1989 Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), or it’s false, artificial ivory. Doug Bandow writes at Forbes about the way the law has worked, right up until now:

Until now the rules were simple and sensible. Ivory imported legally, that is, prior to 1989 or after 1989 with CITES certification that international standards were met, could be sold. Older ivory usually can be identified by coloring, stains, style, wear, quality, subject, and more. Some features can be faked, but most of the older work simply isn’t replicated today.

Moreover, the burden of proof fell on the government, which had to prove that you violated the law. That standard is inconvenient for zealous prosecutors. But that’s the way America normally handles both criminal and civil offenses.

A new administrative rule promulgated by the Obama Administration (1) bans all sales of ivory items that are not documented as having been imported pre-1989; (2) establishes a presumption that all ivory, anywhere, in the USA, is contraband, a presumption that can only be rebutted with comprehensive documentation; and puts the burden on the possessor of the ivory to prove his innocence, whilst relieving prosecutors of the burden of proving anyone’s guilt.

The rules will be enforced by armed agents — including, we are not making this up, SWAT teams — of the Fish & Wildlife Service, which has been frustrated by the difficulty of finding and prosecuting actual poached-ivory traffickers, and has decided to pimp its confiscation and conviction numbers. To do this, it’s going to refocus on heirloom ivory by turning all possessors into criminals with a penstroke, and make lots of busts rapidly so as to have an excuse for increases in headcount and budget.

Resources have already been shifted from pursuing the criminal element — Bandow cites a pair of New York contraband dealers who were busted with millions of dollars’ worth of poached ivory — to targeting the easier-to-find heirloom market. The shift in the presumption of innocence and standard of proof means that the F&WS Fishtapo needn’t be inconvenience by that pesky Constitution or the blatherings of defense attorneys.

Why? In a .pdf from last November that predates the new rules, the Fishtapo explains that:

It is extremely difficult to differentiate legally acquired ivory, such as ivory imported in the 1970s, from ivory derived from elephant poaching. Our criminal investigations and anti- smuggling efforts have clearly shown that legal ivory trade can serve as a cover for illegal trade.

So they “solve” the problem, by making all ivory illegal. No decision for PC Plod to overheat his brain stem with; no pesky legal market. Not only do they no longer have to figure out who the illegal traffickers are hiding among the legal sellers, they don’t even have to look for the illegal traffickers anymore.

(Incidentally, that .pdf explains that the economic illiterates of the Fishtapo think that they’re reducing demand for ivory by destroying it… they explain how reducing the supply reduces the demand! Someone give those bozos the Nobel Prize for Inverted Economics).

We’re still looking for the actual NPRM, but if it’s as Bandow describes it, you know what else is banned? Bringing back your elephant trophy from an African safari. CITES allowed about 1430 sport-hunted elephants’ tusks to be exported from a variety of African nations last year, perfectly legally and with full international approval. After all, those nations use hunting as a key tool in wildlife management. Now, under the new rules, designed so that no Fishtapo agent need ever sweat, or even look for an actual criminal, to make a case ever again, they can’t be imported or possessed. Hell, they can’t be transported inter- or intra-state.

Whose idea was this? It’s hard to say, because it comes from Washington, where everybody lines up to cash his check, but no one lines up to take any responsibility. According to Bandow, the idea was cooked up in a star chamber somewhere in official Washington, with no input from the sort of people who might own an old Steinway with ivory keys — or an engraved, ivory-handled pistol.

Hat tip: Wizbang blog, which can’t resist snarking: “Of course, we know that Obama is interested in saving the animals from the land of his birth, and all, but…” Of course they’re joking. 

10 thoughts on “You’re looking at contraband here

  1. Aesop

    Nice to see that the minions of Dear Leader have gotten around that troublesome Constitutional provision (Art. I, Sec. 9) that absolutely forbids the passage or enactment of any ex post facto laws by the government of the United States. Clearly, they were referring to some other United States, as I’m sure the man-dress-clad Supreme Court will explain to us peons momentarily.

    (Purely rhethorical musing:)
    Tell me again why we bother with a Constitution?
    We could just name the sumbitch Dictator For Life, get on with the revolution, and make that “Life” part a lot briefer than most tyrants typically imagine. Ballpark guess, we could cycle back to democratic republic by noon next Thursday, with the nation little the worse for wear, and 200 pounds of deadweight lighter, if the Congress would simply open the ball and declare by law what’s already the case in fact.

    BTW, those are phenomenal engraving examples.

    One hopes the JBTs would have the wit to merely confiscate the (imaginarily) offending grips, rather than try and bootstrap the confiscation of the entire item, but one suspects they’re as short of small screwdrivers as they are of wits.

  2. AndyN

    It is extremely difficult to differentiate legally acquired ivory… from ivory derived from elephant poaching.

    Replace the word “ivory” with literally any other commodity legally available in the US, and the words “elephant poaching” with literally any other means of illegally obtaining an item, and the sentence is still true. If this rule stands, I look forward to every other law enforcement agency realizing that they no longer have to prove that a subject bought the guns/electronics/jewelry/etc that they want to confiscate, and that if the subject can’t prove that he acquired them legally he can be assumed to be a criminal.

    1. Bill K

      So are you suggesting to me that as an owner of a family-heirloom-without-papers German-made Bechstein grand piano with real ivory keys, I am in jeopardy of losing my pastime of ‘tickling the ivories’?

      If they don’t like me playing piano, perhaps they’ll understand short bursts of fortissimo. Straw, meet camel’s back.

  3. Bill T

    I have begun to dread the start of a new week for fear of “What Have “THEY” come up with NOW?”
    If there is a “NEW”, “HOT” idea you can bet your stash of MREs that it is anti-Constitutional. I think they must have a standing contest to see how many Amendments can be broken with the NEW IDEA!
    These guys (and pseudo Gals) need to go to a “Physic Fortune Teller-witch” and ask King George III what happened at Bunker Hill and what soon followed. “KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY!” Check your “6”, establish rally points, and as Gen. George Patton learned-Don’t outrun your supply line.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, actually, at Bunker Hill the British won. But they lost over 1000 men (200+ KIA, 800+ WIA) and wound up holding a hill that wasn’t worth the price (two hills, actually, Bunker and Breed’s, Breed’s is where the memorial obelisk stands. The cornerstone of the memorial was laid 50 years later … by Lafayette, on one of his visits to New England). T

      he colonial militia suffered about 400 casualties (100/400) and the British took some prisoners, most or all of whom did not survive captivity. The ratio of these numbers is not out of historical line for defenders versus assaulters of a prepared position. The militia were not especially martial, but enough of them fought to the last round — the Brits took the hill when the colonials’ guns ran dry, and only the British had bayonets — that the victory was incredibly costly for Howe and Clinton. In fact it was the bloodiest battle of the war for the British regulars.

  4. Aesop

    BTW, the photo was pristine this AM, but is now corrupted from the butt of the Broomhandle down.

    Unless that represents the Fishtapo ruining even the enjoyment of pictures of contraband ivory.

    BTW, re: the Broomhandle:
    General Lando Calrissian called, and he wants his blaster back AEffingSAP, or he says “Those confiscatin’ b*tches gonna pay!”

    1. Hognose Post author

      Photo appears OK here, you may have a hosed one in your cache. Or maybe the NSA’s trans-dimensional intercept ring modulator is acting up again. Look, Clapper, we understand we can’t get away from you spying on us, but can you at least stop screwing up our intertubes?

  5. The Machine

    Gotta wonder how many good old PIANOS there are in the USA, every one of ’em with Ivory keys…

    If you don’t think its possible, ask Gibson Guitars what can happen.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think if you have a 1930 Steinway Model B, you’re probably OK. Unless it was restored a few years ago, then it’s up to you to prove the keys are all original.

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