Oklahoma cockfighting ban faces legal challenges

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Cockfighting supporters have filed legal challenges to Oklahoma's new ban on cockfighting in at least 30 counties, and some state legislators have proposed legislation that would weaken or suspend the ban.

In November 2002, Oklahoma voters approved a ban on cockfighting with 56 percent of Oklahoma voters supporting the ban (JAVMA, Dec. 15, 2002, page 1670). The law makes cockfighting and related activities illegal in Oklahoma, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000 for offenders. Previously, Oklahoma was one of three states that allowed cockfighting; the practice continues to be allowed in Louisiana and parts of New Mexico.

Within days of the ban, proponents of cockfighting filed court injunctions in multiple counties to prevent enforcement of the law, charging that the law was unconstitutional for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons cited are that the ban was too vague, would confiscate cockfighters' property without compensating them, and that the ban would have a negative impact on the state's economy.

The Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting, the group that led the campaign against cockfighting, is working with the state attorney general to consolidate the cases and bring them before the state supreme court, according to Cynthia Armstrong, the coalition's campaign manager.

"We feel confident that the constitutionality of the language will stand up in court," Armstrong said, explaining that the law was modeled after the state's existing laws against dogfighting.

Additionally, some state legislators have proposed bills that would reduce the penalties and narrow the definition of cockfighting. One such bill, proposed by Oklahoma Sen. Frank Shurden, would narrow the definition of cockfighting to include only fights in which the birds are fitted with sharp implements, would repeal the law against possessing fight birds, and would reduce the crimes to misdemeanors.

Armstrong said the coalition opposes the changes because they would render the ban unenforceable.

The Oklahoma VMA has not taken a position on the ban, but its executive director Dr. Charles Helwig, said the association supports the AVMA position on animal fighting, which states:

The AVMA supports laws against the use and/or transport of domestic or foreign animals for fighting ventures. Further, the AVMA recommends that animal fighting be considered a felony offense.

In 2002, the AVMA suggested adding language to the Farm Bill that would prohibit the shipment of birds across state lines for fighting purposes and make it illegal to participate in a bird fight in which any animals were illegally transported. The language was passed along with the Farm Bill.