Ivory bill: Let’s create another crime

The Oregon House likely will vote to pass the ban on ivory sales.

The Oregon House likely will vote to pass the ban on ivory sales.

The Oregon ivory bill, you will not be surprised to learn, is alive and well and on its way to becoming law. It's an example of the majority party's tendency to create new crimes out of transactions that until now are legal under Oregon law because they do Oregon no harm.

The bill is SB 913, and it creates the offense of "trafficking in animal parts." The animal parts at issue are rhinoceros horn and ivory from elephants and extinct mammoths, as well as products made from them. The Senate passed an amended version of the original bill on April 28 by a vote of 19-11, and the House Judiciary Committee plans to act on it on May 20.

When the bill becomes law, it will be a crime to sell, buy, possess with intent to sell, or import for sale or purchase any ivory, rhinoceros horn, or products made from either. The idea is to discourage poachers in Africa from slaughtering elephants or rhinoceroses to take their tusks or horns. Evidently the backers of SB 913 think those poachers, who already risk being shot and killed if caught in the act, are going to stop now that they know Oregon disapproves of their unsavory trade.

The immediate effect will be felt not in Africa but in Oregon workshops that make or deal in trinkets of this kind, including those who use mammoth tusks from animals that died thousands of years ago. They'll be out of work. The bill was massaged to exempt certain items containing ivory, such as knives, musical instruments and guns, but the exemptions are limited and convoluted.

For example, if you want to sell a violin bow with ivory inlay without getting into trouble, you must "establish by documentaton" that the item was made before Jan. 18, 1990, and you must show that the ivory makes up less than 20 percent of the bow "by volume." If it's a gun or knife you're trying to sell or buy, the seller has to show the item was manufactured before 1976, and again the ivory component must be less than 20 percent of the item by volume. Good luck proving the percentage of the volume of an old revolver that the ivory sides of the grip make up.

There's an exemption for zoos as well. Somebody must have realized that without the exemption, the Portland Zoo could never get another elephant, at least none that has tusks. Come to think of it, that would not be a bad thing. Those big animals in their enclosures always look terribly sad. They were born in captivity, but they always look as though they have some innate longing for the savannah or jungle where their ancestors lived.

And by the way, the amended bill would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017, giving everybody trying to acquire or unload ivory more than a whole year to complete the sale.

So what's the point? It's to let the backers feel they've done their bit to protect those wild animals far, far away. (hh)

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