Gov. Brown closes loophole in ban on ivory sales in California

Thailand Ivory

Thai officials arrange seized elephant tusks to be displayed before destruction in Bangkok, Thailand, in August.

(Sakchai Lalit / AP)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday closed a loophole in state law that allows some elephant ivory to be bought and sold in California as long as it was originally obtained before 1977.

The current law, by grandfathering in ivory possessed before it was outlawed in 1977, makes it difficult to enforce the ban because authorities have a hard time determining the age of ivory, according to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). Some people caught with new ivory claim they have had it since before 1977.

The new law, which also outlaws the purchase or sale of rhinoceros horn in California, takes effect Jan. 1 and provides for fines of up to $5,000 for violators.

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“California is one of the top U.S. markets for illegal ivory sales,” Atkins said.

“Elephants and rhinos are being slaughtered at a faster rate they are being born, which will result in their extinction if we don’t step up,” she added. “The Governor’s signature on AB 96 strengthens enforcement against the illegal ivory trade in California, which will, in turn, help put an end to poaching.”

There is a limited exemption for musical instruments that contain ivory as well as antiques that are at least 100 years old.

The measure is opposed by the National Rifle Assn. and California Rifle and Pistol Assn. because of concern it would harm collectors who own firearms, knives and other items made with ivory, rendering them valueless because they cannot be sold. There is an exception for antique guns, but that is too narrow, the NRA said in a statement.


“While the NRA stands in opposition to the illegal ivory trade and poaching, banning the trade and sale of legally owned, pre-ban ivory will not save any elephants and is simply a symbolic measure that deprives law-abiding citizens of property that was obtained legally and in good faith,” the group said.

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