The Corner

Take It Away!

John Hinderaker provides a good precis of the Gibson guitar raids. It seems a curious law-enforcement priority even for the Brokest Nation in History. Very few pianos are now made in the United States, but hey, that’s no reason not to do the same to the guitar industry. I would only add that the (century-old but recently expanded) Lacey Act is a characteristic example of the degeneration of federal “law”-making, whereby narrowly drawn legislation metastasizes way beyond its original intent to the point that no reasonable man, no matter how prudent, can know whether he is or isn’t in breach of it.

Such open-ended “laws” are an invitation to tyranny, and it would be expecting an awful lot for a money-no-object bureaucracy not to take advantage of it. For example:

Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bösendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork—which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.

There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys. But Mr. Vieillard didn’t have his paperwork straight when two-dozen federal agents came calling.

Two dozen federal agents? To raid a piano importer? Does the piano industry have a particular reputation for violent armed resistance? Or is it that the most footling bureaucrat now feels he has no credibility unless he’s got his own elite commando team? When you’re wondering how America’s national government settled into the habit of spending $4 trillion a year while only raising $2 trillion, it’s easy to get hung up on fine calibrations of entitlement reform circa 2030. But look at it this way: Imagine if, instead of 24 agents, the federal piano police had to make do with a mere dozen to raid a small importer.

Note this, too:

Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.

They’re antique pianos. They come with ivory keys. They’re grandfathered in. There is no criminal intent and, in the most basic sense, no underlying crime. Yet he’s looking at being tossed in jail “for years”? Any “justice” system with such an utter lack of proportion is not justice at all. It speaks very poorly for us that we tolerate it.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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