Weak penalties for cockfighting show no regard for laws in place

The same voters who approved State Question 687 to outlaw cockfighting elected me to my third term as Oklahoma attorney general in 2002. Soon after the anti-animal fighting law took effect, I defended the measure against cockfighters’ maneuvers to get county judges to exempt them from the effects of the law. I asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reject the idea of ​​county carve-outs for cockfighting in our state. In a unanimous ruling, our state’s highest court determined that the voter-approved law was a proper exercise of state authority and should apply everywhere in Oklahoma.

State Rep. Justin Humphrey and Sen. Lonnie Paxton has a new twist on an old, discredited idea. Their bills, HB 2530 and SB 1006, would allow counties to dramatically weaken penalties for staging fights, operating a fighting venue and possessing animals for fighting. Under their scheme, the maximum fine for serious animal cruelty violations would be $500.

Considering that cockfighters illegally sell some of their fighting birds at $2,000 a head, those penalties are no deterrent at all. That’s a minor cost of doing business. In fact, the fine would be less than the federal taxes they are delinquent in paying to the United States on the profits from their contraband.

It’s troubling that cockfighters who are asking for changes to our laws are not obeying them in the first place. A series of investigations into illegal cockfighting by Animal Wellness Action have uncovered cockfighters raising and fighting tens of thousands of fighting roosters. In fact, the leaders of the so-called Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission — the political action committee that has made 41 political contributions, including to the House speaker and the governor, and which has failed to disclose its donors in contravention of Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules — are themselves cockfighters. Lawmakers who swear an oath to honor the laws of Oklahoma and the United States should not pay heed to people breaking the law of Oklahoma and the United States.

Representative Humphrey mentioned Oklahomans make money by raising and training fighting animals and shipping them to Guam and the Philippines. But exporting fighting birds to any other jurisdiction, whether a state, territory, or foreign nation, is also a federal felony. He seems to be encouraging the cockfighters to break that law, too.

Our two most senior congressmen, US Reps. Tom Cole and Frank Lucas, along with the overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of applying the federal law to every jurisdiction in the United States. Not a single US senator said a negative word about that legislation.

Law enforcement authorities often find that animal fighting is directly tied to other crimes, such as drug trafficking, illegal gambling, gang violence, public corruption, and additional forms of extreme animal cruelty and human-on-human violence.

Let’s remember that over the last 20 years, state lawmakers previously rejected a raft of bills to weaken the anti-cockfighting law. They should do so again in 2023.

The penalties in the existing law are proportional to the severity of these crimes of violence. They are right in line with the penalties in our state’s anti-dogfighting law. And they are in line with the felony-level penalties for cockfighting for every one of our neighboring states: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas.

The problem is not that our anti-cruelty laws are too harsh; rather it’s that cockfighters are exhibiting disobedience to those laws and some county sheriffs are failing to hold people accountable.

The majority of lawmakers will have an opportunity to show voters they respect their collective judgment and also the rule of law.

By rejecting these outrageous bills, they can also send a signal that they recognize staged animal fights are disreputable and contemptible. That’s hardly an act of political courage given that the activity is banned on every inch of US soil and no state has ever weakened its laws related to illegal animal fighting.

Drew Edmondson

Drew Edmondson

Drew Edmondson was the former Oklahoma attorney general (1995-2011) and is co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council of Animal Wellness Action.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Cockfighting is contemptible. Oklahoma laws should reflect that.

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