Gamefowl breeders and advocates in Oklahoma believe that they have the political momentum to push for decriminalizing cockfighting in the next year. The cockfighting enthusiasts in the state have also begun a push to organize better politically, following a failed attempt at reducing the penalties for the blood sport.
The breeders believe that the recent measures of lowering penalties for drug and property crimes in Oklahoma highlight what is deemed to be an unjust punishment. Additionally, the legislation against performing an abortion in the state, signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, has the same maximum penalty for cockfighting which is up to 10 years in prison.
Robert Turner, a Stigler gamefowl breeder and treasurer of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Association, stated, “Rooster people vote. We’ve been dormant for 20 years. We thought that with the situation with decriminalization of illicit drugs and everything else, we just thought we would give it a shot.”
On the other hand, proponents of the ban are skeptical about the success of the push by the gamefowl industry. Cynthia Armstrong, senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States said, “I don’t think the people of Oklahoma want to see cockfighting make a comeback. I don’t think they (gamefowl breeders) have any momentum going in. They’re deluded. They would love to see cockfighting come back, but that ship really has sailed.”
The state of Oklahoma voted to outlaw cockfighting in 2002. Despite the ban, underground cockfighting is still prevalent in the state. Since the ban, law enforcement has raided numerous illegal cockfighting rings in Oklahoma.
Recently, animal rights groups have begun pushing federal and state regulators to clamp down on gamefowl shipments from the mainland United States to overseas. According to research done by Animal Wellness Action (AWA), Oklahoma is one of the country’s largest gamefowl exporters. AWA has asked the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry to stop the gamefowl shipments, however, the department responded by saying it has no authority to stop them.
In response to AWA’s movements, cockfighting enthusiasts in Oklahoma are driving to decriminalize cockfighting. Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, authored a bill to reduce cockfighting penalties, maintain cockfighting pits, and promote cockfights from felonies to misdemeanors however, the bill was unsuccessful. Humphrey has stated he plans to introduce similar legislation in 2023.
The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission recently hosted a fundraiser meeting to form a state political action committee to “support candidates who support reform of gamefowl laws” and oppose those who don’t. Humphrey was invited to the fundraiser meeting.
“So here you have drugs (that are) killing people, and they’re misdemeanors. And if you bought a chicken, you’ll receive 10 years in the penitentiary. There’s no way that the average person can agree with that. A prudent person would have to admit that’s upside down. and so I think we got a really good chance of getting that deal through,” Humphrey said.
“We just think the punishment is excessive. They passed a bill on abortion that carries the same penalty as we have for gamefowl owners,” Robert Turner said.
Anthony DeVore, president of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission and a third-generation gamefowl breeder stated, “A lot of people raise horses and cattle and dogs, they have bloodlines they maintain. I’ve got bloodlines I’ve had and kept since I was 10 years old. We take a lot of pride in our birds. It’s a multi-generational hobby.”
DeVore said that the Gamefowl Commission has endorsed both Republicans and Democrats who support gamefowl breeders. Additionally, they also have gained support from legislators in both rural and urban areas. The pressure from the actions of the animal rights groups has helped breeders to organize, said Humphrey.
Humphrey has also stated that he views the path for the decriminalization of cockfighting as similar to that of medical marijuana in Oklahoma if it is decriminalized. “People in power will see the economic benefits of legalizing and taxing the industry. Oklahoma’s missing a huge amount of money by not doing that. It’ll take several years, but I figure that, eventually, it might lead to that (full legalization).”