Stop the Guitars!

…or at least some of them. It looks like importing certain kinds of wood is verboten per a 1900 law. The Lacey Act prohibits importation of certain goods covered by the export laws of other countries. Maybe my coffee has not kicked in, but it is not clear to me why this kind of law is a good idea in the first place. Still, there it is, and it has been used to raid the Gibson Guitar company–twice.

The story gets cuter, though. It turns out that any number of other guitar companies import exactly the same kind of wood, yet they remain unmolested by the Department of Justice. Wonder why? Me too.

One reason it is hard to tell is that Gibson has not been charged–with anything. The DOJ took their wood, computers, and other possessions and will not return them even though there has been no indication of what, if anything, Gibson did wrong.

Speculation is that the DOJ has ulterior motives. At present, this is just speculation, but the smell here is not Brazilian rosewood. Gibson’s CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, is a Republican donor and the company has a history of freeing itself from the constraints of union labor. (They locate in right-to-work states–my God!)

Cases of prosecutorial misconduct seem to me to be on the rise. From warrantless raids to questionable sports steroids accusations, government seems wildly enthused about “getting” someone, even if the case is thin as water. Our government is supposed to uphold the law, but every person accused has rights. Among them is to know what they are accused of. When the DOJ can disrupt a business to the tune of millions and confiscate materials without explaining why, the line has been crossed.

I feel for Gibson, but I fear for us. During times of crisis, people crave a parent-figure–someone who will kick ass and take names. You know, set things right, put away all those nasty lawbreakers. Do we still have enough self-respect to say “no?” Do we still believe we have the right to know that of which we are accused or to retain our property until it is legally confiscated (after a trial)?

All the more troubling is the sense that cases like this are politically motivated. At present, we do not know if this case is retaliation for supporting the wrong party, but it sure bears a closer look. When the coercive power of government shows even a hint of being abused by politicians, we are all in danger. Let’s watch Gibson and make sure justice, not retribution, is exercised.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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