New California Law to Turn Antiques Owners Into Criminals

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Only in California would lawmakers try to make the possession of a perfectly legal antique a crime overnight.

Assembly Bill 96, by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D- San Diego) and State Senator Richard Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would do just that because it would make it illegal to own, possess or transfer ivory even if that ivory was legally purchased or inherited.

The civil and criminal penalties under AB 96 make it worse to possess ivory than for a convicted felon to be in the possession of illegal firearm. How twisted is that?

In 1977, California banned the sale of ivory and with the multiple layers of state, federal and international laws. That law is part of a vast and complex web of state, federal and international laws already in place to protect elephants by drying up the black market ivory trade.

But AB 96 goes way to far by creating a new form of asset forfeiture that essentially devalues property now legally owned and deprives individuals of their property without compensation or due process. This is a blatant violation of the Constitution of the United States. It also contradicts action in Sacramento that has tried to protect against asset forfeiture in other areas of law.

AB 96 should be prospective to ensure property rights aren’t violated. California should be targeting any new ivory illegally entering the state – not legal family heirlooms and antiques.

Unless amended, AB 96 will have many unintended consequences. It will result in protracted and costly legal battles against the state over the constitutionality of AB 96. It will lead to raids by Department of Fish & Wildlife in urban areas that divert precious resources from protecting California wildlife against poaching in the Golden State. It will harm families or non-profits prevented from auctioning valuable antique heirlooms – jewelry, artwork and furniture containing ivory. It will mean lost revenue to dealers currently in possession of legal ivory who would not be able to sell those antiques.

Congress and the federal government have just released new regulations for improving how states can better manage ivory sales.  The California state legislature should first review the new federal regulations, before it acts prematurely.

I don’t fault the goal of AB 96. But it is incredibly flawed. Rather than protecting elephants, it will turn law-abiding citizens into criminals and unjustly turn valuable family heirlooms into worthless items overnight. This elephant bill tramples on fundamental constitutional rights and needs to be fixed before it becomes law.