Groups charge that the bill gives comfort to known criminals in the state
Oklahoma City – Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, and other anti-cruelty organizations condemned a bill to weaken penalties for certain cockfighting crimes and to decriminalize others. The bill, H.B. 3283 is authored by Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane-19), who represents a state legislative district where Animal Wellness Action uncovered illegal cockfighting pits that attracted fighting participants from multiple states. AWA alerted local officials after it obtained fight schedules in 2021, but no local authorities acted on the detailed, credible information provided.
Animal Wellness Action released an investigation in 2020 that identified Oklahoma as the “cockfighting capital of the United States,” with an array of cockfighters raising thousands of birds for fighting pits in the state and across the world. An analysis of live-animal shipping records obtained from the Guam Department of Agriculture uncovered 11,323 fighting birds shipped to Guam from cockfighters in about a dozen states from November 2016 to November 2021. Oklahoma cockfighters shipped nearly 5,000 fighting birds to Guam over the last five years, more than double the number from any other state. Cockfighters also send thousands of fighting birds go to Mexico, the Philippines, and some 20 other countries around the world, with the perpetrators circumventing defying state and federal anti-cruelty laws, anti-gambling laws and tax laws. While fights regularly occur in Oklahoma and a number of other southern states, cockfighters rake in millions by shipping fighting birds to other nation, making theU.S. a key breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry.
In a letter to House lawmakers, Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, called cockfighting “a legally and morally settled matter in Oklahoma,” with voters approving a citizen initiative and lawmakers turning back every subsequent effort to roll back some or all of its provisions. The 2002 measure was supported by then Governor Frank Keating, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and Congressman Tom Cole.
“Let’s remember, there are no agriculture, veterinary, or law enforcement groups that support staged fights between animals,” added Pacelle. “The first state to outlaw cockfighting did so 190 years ago, and it’s shameful that this matter is set for debate on the floor of the Oklahoma Legislature in 2022.”
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson (1994-2010) defended the law from a series of legal actions after voters approved the measure. Ultimately the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the anti-cockfighting law is a proper exercise of state authority.
“This pro-cockfighting bill is an affront to every law-abiding Oklahoman and an embarrassment to our state,” said Drew Edmondson. “Cockfighting is barbaric practice criminalized on every inch of American soil by state and federal laws. The people who stage and promote knife fights between animals deserve handcuffs, meaningful fines, and jail time, not signals from lawmakers that their favored form of animal cruelty is just fine.”
An Animal Wellness Action investigation has unearthed dozens of major cockfighting operators in Oklahoma. The organization has obtained satellite images of cockfighting farms, long-form marketing videos, profiles in international cockfighting magazines, Facebook and other social media posts touting the fighting abilities of their birds, and an array of other materials making plain their involvement in the enterprise. Animal Wellness Action has built dossiers nearly 20 major cockfighting operators, including Brenda and John Bottoms of LeFlore County and Bill McNatt of Haskell County, who were the top two shippers of fighting birds to Guam. The Bottoms shipped 2197 animals to Guam and McNatt moved 1945, according to live-animal shipping records reviewed by AWA. B.L. Cozad of Comanche County appeared on HBO Sports, showed the television crew his fighting birds, and dared federal and state authorities to arrest him, openly admitting on national television that he engages in cockfighting activities and falsely claiming he has a constitutional right to engage in the activities.
Oklahoma law makes it a crime to stage fights between birds, possess animals for fighting, operate a cockfighting arena, possess fighting implements, or be a spectator at an event. The federal anti-animal-fighting law also makes a wide range of animal fighting activities illegal, including transport of animals for fighting across state lines, using the U.S. Postal Service to transport birds for fighting, or bringing a minor to a fight. Most violations of these states are state and felony offenses.
Rep. David Hardin (R-86-Stilwell) is coauthor of H.R. 3283, and Senator Blake Stephens (R-3-Tahlequah) is the Senate author.