Plans to outlaw the domestic trade in ivory would be disastrous for American gun owners, according to the country’s influential firearms lobby.
Conservationists welcomed President Obama’s announcement last month, banning the sale of ivory less than 100 years old inside America. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has dismissed the proposals as “another attempt by this anti-gun Administration to ban firearms based on cosmetics”. It urged its members to contact congressmen, the White House and the national Fish and Wildlife Service “to let them know you oppose the ban”.
The NRA, which has fought any restrictions on gun ownership, said plans to ban the ivory trade would render millions of weapons — which it called works of art — worthless.
“If your shotgun has an ivory bead or inlay, your revolver or pistol has ivory grips, your knife has an ivory handle, or if your firearm accessories, such as cleaning tools that contain any ivory, the item would be illegal to sell,” it said in a statement.
It also claimed that the ban would “do nothing to further anti-poaching efforts, or to reduce the illicit trade in Africa, Asia and elsewhere”.
Conservationists disagree. “Legal ivory markets create perfect cover for illegal sales of smuggled ivory,” said Frank Pope, the chief operations officer at the charity Save the Elephants.
America is the second largest market for illegal ivory after China, and conservationists have warned that unless more is done to curb demand, elephants could be wiped out in the wild within a generation.
“The US and China have an opportunity to lead the world by banning the trade within their borders, a crucial step towards ending the ongoing elephant crisis,” Mr Pope said.
The US crushed more than six tonnes of ivory in November. China followed suit earlier this year, but ivory is still readily available for sale in most large cities. According to the iWorry campaign, an elephant is poached every 15-minutes.
“What Obama did was absolutely responsible and the right thing to do,” said Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of the Kenya-based charity WildlifeDirect. “By banning the domestic trade in ivory he makes it clear to law enforcement officials that it doesn’t matter who it belongs to or where it has come from, it is illegal.”
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