Gibson Held at Gunpoint


June 6, 2014 11:46AM

Gibson Guitar has been crafting beautiful guitars for nearly a century, all the while contributing to America’s storied music history, employing hundreds of people, and doing it all within the letter of the law. How does our government treat such an iconic symbol of American pride? By raiding its plant at gunpoint, that’s how. Two years ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service descended on Gibson’s Nashville factory, leading many to believe the company was raping some far-off exotic trees in violation of numerous federal and international laws. But Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz revealed in a recent Forbes interview  that the true motive for the raid was far more sinister. “…Gibson’s very success made it a fat target for federal prosecutors, whom Juszkiewicz alleges were operating at the behest of lumber unions and environmental pressure groups seeking to kill the market for lumber imports. ‘This case was not about conservation,’ he says. ‘It was basically protectionism.’” Gibson’s alleged violation? Importing illegal fingerboards—not outlawed because they were carved from endangered exotic trees, but because they were four millimeters too thick, the length of a common black ant. The law in question was the Lacey Act, and the offending provision was added to the law just two months before the raid on the guitar maker. Had Gibson employed unionized Indian workers to shave down the fingerboards rather than doing it in their own nonunion plant, the raid might never have happened. Protectionism indeed. And as the Forbes article points out, this is nothing unique. “Just ask Harvey Silverglate, Boston lawyer, activist, civil liberties advocate, and author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. As he explains, the Feds routinely take advantage of the vagueness of many of our laws by starting from the target and working backwards, selectively prosecuting people they want to go after by charging them with crimes they often don’t even know exist.” Until we return our nation to the rule of law where all Americans are treated equally and are no longer subject to the whim of overzealous prosecutors and their protectionist cheerleaders, no one is safe. Not even beloved companies like Gibson can come out ahead without paying massively. Even though the company was never charged and has never been allowed to view the sealed warrant authorizing the raid, it had to fork over a $250,000 fine, a $50,000 donation to an environmental group, and had substantial business disruption costs, let alone its reputation impugned in the process. At least Mr. Juszkiewicz is willing to stand up for what is right—unlike the feds and the unions that tried to take him out. -Justin Owen Enjoy the Beacon blog? Help us keep it going with a tax-deductible gift.