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If Gibson Guitar is guilty, will First Lady Obama be charged too?

Ambiguous amendments to the Lacey Act have ensnared U.S. manufacturers and mom-and-pop businesses. Those amendments could potentially ensnare our First Lady.

In February I wrote about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s introduction of S. 2062, the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 or FOCUS. The bill repeals some provisions of the Lacey Act originally enacted in 1900 to prevent trafficking in certain types of wildlife. The bill has been amended 5 times since then.

Unfortunately the amendments present threats to an average American ensnared by legal language that includes this (boldface added):

“Illegal plants and plant products may also be seized and forfeited whether or not the person from whom they are seized knew of the illegal nature of the product.”

Gibson Guitar certainly understands the confusing aspects of the Lacey Act. Federal agents first raided Gibson in 2009. Armed agents seized a large supply of wood and hauled it off to wherever the feds store evidence. The feds did the same thing again in 2011.

Fox News reported on Thursday no charges have ever been filed against Gibson. The government is still sitting on all that wood while a U.S. manufacturer already challenged by countries with far more flexible regulations languishes. At issue is the interpretation of laws in countries like Madagascar and India—those countries could care less about such cases. What should be at issue is the U.S. Constitution, starting with Amendment IV.

The Lacey Act amendments haven’t just snared big companies, though. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers noted several individuals who grew a hobby into a small business enterprise and ended up serving federal prison time. One grandfather who imported orchids in a mom and pop enterprise run in a greenhouse behind his home filed information on the wrong federal form.

NACDL explains what happened to that grandfather:

“Federal agents, clad in protective Kevlar and bearing guns, stormed the house. The agents refused to tell George what he had done wrong and, instead, ordered him to remain seated in his kitchen, under supervision, while they ransacked his home and seized his belongings.”

The grandfather did 17 months in a federal prison—he had to take a plea. He simply could not afford to defend himself by hiring pricey attorneys. What retiree can risk indebtedness on that level?

The Lacey Act isn’t the only legislation that can land unsuspecting Americans in jail. NACDL said (boldface added):

“Over 4,450 federal crimes are scattered throughout the 50 titles of the U.S. Code. In addition, it is estimated that there are at least 10,000 and quite possibly as many as 300,000 federal regulations that can be enforced criminally. The truth is no one, including the government, has been able to provide an accurate count of how many criminal offenses exist in our federal code.”

We don’t even know how many criminal offenses exist in our federal code? What does that say about a government that derives power from the people?

If you think this isn’t a problem, consider this.

In September, 2011, after the raids on Gibson Guitars, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to do something nice for France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Mrs. Obama gifted Mrs. Sarkozy with a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic, complete with rosewood fingerboard.

Now I have a daughter who is a musician. I don’t have to tell you the level of joy it would bring her to have one of those guitars if she could afford one. I applaud our First Lady’s decision in selecting that guitar.

The feds could potentially march into the personal quarters at the White House and cart our First Lady off to jail. Her gift was publicly documented.

The wood used in the guitar is like the wood confiscated by the feds who descended on Gibson.

After all, ignorance of this law, as complex as it is and as insane as it is to expect a company to stay abreast of every export law in every country on earth, is no excuse.

That’s the level of tyranny our country has descended to. And we have stood by and permitted this to happen.

I’ve contacted Sen. Paul’s office in an effort to determine what may happen with the FOCUS Act he introduced. The last action I could locate on the FOCUS act is that the bill is in the hands of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. That committee is chaired by a Leftist Democrat.


The FOCUS Act and federal law enforcement (The Foundry blog at Heritage)

Articles about the FOCUS Act, the Lacey Act and Gibson Guitars (Archives, The US Report)

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/April 13, 2012)

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