Feds Raid Guitar Maker…Looking for Illegal Wood

Federal Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raided factories and offices of Gibson Guitar in Memphis and Nashville on Wednesday, seizing wood pallets, electronic files and guitars.

Federal authorities are apparently investigating Gibson for the alleged importation and use of illegal wood.

Here is a video taken in the aftermath of the raid, courtesy of the local Fox affiliate:

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning on this highly “aggressive enforcement of overly broad laws to make the company cry uncle.”  The Journal reports that the raid this past Wednesday was not the first time that agents of Fish and Wildlife came after Gibson guitars.

Gibson is already fighting a federal lawsuit that stemmed from a 2009 federal raid, but this raid seems to have upped the stakes. As the Journal described the ongoing case:

“The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards… but with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.”

The real issue here seems to be the bureaucratic minutia of federal environmental regulations that increasingly  pervade all aspects of American life. Environmental regulations cover your home, your business, and now even your guitar. To lay out the over-regulation in this case, the Journal quoted John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University, who described the enormous burden of proof on guitar owners to show they aren’t carrying endangered wood:

“It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of? If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory? Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever.”

Certainly, the dedication of federal resources for the harassment of a private musical instrument producer reinforces already negative perceptions about the Obama administration’s  hyper-regulatory environment.

Given the current economic climate, and the recent Obama administration decision to de-prioritize deportation of illegal immigrants in a way that appears to many as backdoor amnesty, the case against Gibson is raising many eyebrows.