Obama & Department of Interior Ban Ivory Handle Knives & Guns by Executive Fiat

Government Overreaching With Pernicious Ivory Ban, Is Your Ivory Handled Knife or Gun Stocks Now Worthless? More Elephant Poaching, Not Less.

Sambar Custom Bowie Knives
Sambar Custom Bowie Knives

Gilbert, AZ –-(Ammoland.com)- On February 11, 2014, the White House and Department of Interior (DOI) declared by executive fiat (links below) that virtually all elephant ivory in the U.S., including ivory handled knives, could no longer be sold, claiming that by doing so they were saving the elephants. “Saving the elephants” is an admirable goal that most all can support, however many experts, and indeed the African ivory producing nations as well, are convinced that not only will this ivory ban not save any elephants, it may increase their slaughter by poachers.

Many believe that the Administration's new policy is a solution to a problem for which there is no U.S.-centric solution (more on that below). And, the consequence for ivory owners is significant and potentially devastating.

Are Your Ivory handled Knives Now Worthless?

Knife Rights is very concerned about the effect of this new Executive order and DOI policy on members of the knife community who own, buy or sell knives with ivory. The Administration policy would make their ivory and ivory handled knives essentially worthless. The only exceptions that would allow sale of these items are virtually impossible for most owners to comply with, leaving them with no viable recourse.

One can imagine someone bringing in a fine ivory handled knife to the Antiques Roadshow, just to be told it is worth nothing, zero, zilch because of this government edict. Fearing heavy-handed government enforcement, some suppliers, knifemakers and retailers are liquidating their stock of ivory and ivory handled knives. Others are taking a more conservative wait and see approach. Only time will tell who made the best choice.

While the White House and DOI claim they are only prohibiting commercial trade, itself a major problem, many knowledgeable observers are concerned that language in the anticipated final rules could effectively prohibit many or most non-commercial transfers, such that you would not even be able to pass a piece of ivory, or any other object that was comprised in part of ivory, such as an ivory handled knife, to your heirs. Or, that simply sending your ivory handled knife to a scrimshaw artist to be scrimmed could land you in jail.

Trade in ivory is already heavily regulated, but this new policy goes beyond reasonable or practical. Besides outlawing import, export and interstate sales, the normal purview of federal action, they have even gone so far as to outlaw intrastate sales (those wholly within a state's borders), not normally under federal jurisdiction.

18th Century European Flintlock with Ivory and Pearl Inlaid Full Stock
18th Century European Flintlock with Ivory and Pearl Inlaid Full Stock

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

While the policy excludes “antique” ivory that is over 100 years old, it also requires proof that the ivory is antique, or that it was imported legally, which doesn't exist in the vast majority of cases. Worse, the law assumes you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, essentially making criminals of everyone who owns a piece of ivory. Both of which should be abhorrent to any American.

For most owners of ivory there's no proof to be had, because any ivory imported prior to the existing import restrictions (1975 for Asian elephant ivory and 1990 for African elephant ivory) did not require any documentation. And, ivory which isn't antique, but which was imported legally prior to the restrictions, represents the majority of ivory in the U.S. Any ivory imported since the restrictions were in place only required documentation for import, not subsequent sale within the U.S.

So, the DOI knows there is unlikely to be a paper trail by which to prove yourself innocent. Any scientific analysis that can provide ironclad proof of antiquity costs so much that it is beyond the reach of the majority of ivory owners. Pretty much a Catch 22 for ivory owners and those who work or trade in ivory. You can't win, which appears to be their goal.


What Fifth Amendment?

That such a “taking” of what could easily amount to hundreds of millions of dollars of perfectly legal private property by the government would violate the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution does not seem to have been a concern to this Administration. Although, it must be noted that ironically the Fifth Amendment issue was indeed brought up as being “problematic” by the rabid supporters of this move in the only public, one-sided, sham of a “hearing” that was held leading up to this edict (opposing viewpoints were not welcome or invited). “Problematic,” indeed!

It should also be noted that the African ivory producing nations were not consulted in this one-sided process; in fact they were denied an opportunity to be included in development of this policy. Most likely because they understand the unintended consequences could be devastating for their herds and they oppose this foolishness.


The Administration's New Ivory Policy

The elements of the new policy that are of most concern to knife owners, knifemakers, scrimshaw artists and knife material suppliers, to name but a few impacted, boils down to the following:

  • Prohibits commercial import of African elephant ivory, including antiques
  • Prohibits commercial export of elephant ivory except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in “exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act,” whatever that means.
  • “Significantly restricts” domestic resale of elephant ivory. A proposed rule will “reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques,” AND it will also “prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document for ivory imported since then.” “Significantly restricted” equals banned for all practical purposes!
  • Clarifies the definition of “antique” to be more than 100 years old and meets other requirements under the Endangered Species Act. “The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.”

Having already overreached way beyond normal legal and rational bounds, what are the odds that the DOI bureaucrats that will arbitrarily finalize both the rules and the implementation policies will not continue to overreach in doing so? Ivory owners, and Americans who believe in our legal rights under the Constitution, have every right to feel violated and should be very concerned.


Unintended Consequences for Elephants – But Not Unforeseeable

As to the fantasy that this will save even a single elephant, of concern for all of us who do want to see these majestic animals thrive, these rules could well doom many more elephants. As the ban, and related actions, takes effect, it will only increase the value of their ivory tusks on the booming black market, of which the vast majority goes to China. Experts estimate only about 5% of the ivory traded in the U.S is on the black market, all the rest is legal, or was legal until now.

The biggest current impediment to saving elephants is the minimal resources available in Africa and Asia to fight the poachers. And it must be noted that the sale of legally procured ivory is one of the few sources of money to pay for that. If only a portion of the dollars this Administration has spent, and is going to spend, on implementing and enforcing this ludicrous ban was invested in more and better equipped rangers to protect the elephants, there would be a far better return on investment.

As to total bans in general, history shows us they never accomplish much more than increasing criminal activity. We all know how Prohibition turned out. Moreover, nothing done here in the U.S. will affect the booming market for black market ivory in China and Asia, which consumes almost all of it.

That's where the problem is, not here in the U.S. This ill-considered U.S. policy is a very bad solution for a non-U.S. problem. And, it does so at the considerable expense of honest law-abiding knife owners and others, many of whom could lose their livelihood.

For those interested in reading more on this issue, I recommend the article, “Obama Administration Treats Antique Collectors And Dealers As Criminals: New Ivory Rules Put Elephants At Increased Risk” by Doug Bandow.


Stay Tuned!

Knife Rights is actively engaged in developing an effective response to this new policy. We do not intend to roll over without a fight. Stay tuned for developments.

Here are links to the original announcements by the White House and the DOI:


For more information:
Doug Ritter
Knife Rights Chairman
[email protected]

Knife Rights (www.KnifeRights.org) is America's Grassroots Knife Owners Organization, working towards a Sharper Future for all knife owners. Knife Rights is dedicated to providing knife owners an effective voice in public policy. Become a Knife Rights member and make a contribution to support the fight for your knife rights. Visit www.kniferights.org

  • 10 thoughts on “Obama & Department of Interior Ban Ivory Handle Knives & Guns by Executive Fiat

    1. The blade accents the knife which is worth far more, just as the grips accent the gun.
      I believe many examples you have marveled at are actually ivory micarta and should be treated accordingly. There are no agents recording every purchase, and no “experts” to definitively call your opinion into question. Big Mitch and Little Barry can pound sand.

    2. Mr. Chang is very correct, and though it is not commonly realized or believed, in many African countries, elephant overpopulation is a real problem. In truth, African elephants are not even minutely endangered, quite the opposite. In many countries, they are a serious pest and problem because of excessive, uncontrolled numbers.

    3. Having been a netsuke collector for almost two decades, I am sure that all in my collection wouldn”t add up to more than a tiny portion of only one tusk. I haven’t purchased any in years
      but I don’t want them to be confiscated from me by the government or be told I cannot transfer them to someone else as I feel appropriate. Are they all antique? I think so but scientific examination would be far ,far too expensive for me to even consider.

    4. Right ! I guess by stopping he sale of the ones in this country is going to bring back to life the ones that are already pistol grips and knife handles RLMAO !

    5. The problem with elephant ivory is the inability to date accurately. Mass spectroscopy is not only prohibitively expensive but also destructive as it requires a sample of the ivory. And inaccurate before 1955. Many antique elephant ivory has characteristics which indicates age. However, the F&WS neither has the expertise nor the manpower to make such determinations, thus they have placed the onus of proof onto the owners.
      The real tragedy is that African elephant poaching is a problem of poverty, crop destruction, and an insatiable demand in Asia for ivory. African countries as South Africa and Zimbabwe have a conservation program of culling herds, tourism, trophy hunting and their herds are thriving to overpopulation. Zaire has a prohibition on hunting and has a poaching problem devastating their herds. America presses their moral compass on a people half way around the world and really has no true understanding of the problem.
      This American prohibition will result in a prolong litigation on constitutional grounds and for just compensation. It will create a larger and not disband the present black-market for illegal (since practically all will be illegal) elephant ivory. The historical and cultural importance of elephant ivory objects will end up as museum curiosities gathering dust rather than as vibrant objects for research. And the present elephant ivory poaching will continue unabated. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This is shear insanity.

    6. These “Uber” Leftists would like you to believe that government can cure all the World’s ills and ‘right” all the World’s “wrongs”. And it starts with things like bans on “assault weapons” and ivory handled knives. Welcome to the Leftist’s New World Utopia! How many elephants and lives have they saved so far?

    7. There is another problem here. How do you determine that the handle of your knife or the inlay for that mater is elephant ivory?
      There are a lot of other kind of ivory that are fully legal to use and as raw material it is easy to determine, but crafted ? Ivory in general is very regulated already; Ask any Alaskan. You see – Alaska has a lot of ivory but no elephants.

    8. So you mean if I had one of the items, I could not sell it to my brother, cousin or father?

      Give us a break!

      I think what they meant was for the importation of any more ivory handled knives or gun stocks.

    Leave a Comment 10 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *