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The Sunday Oklahoman
Point of View: Bill would gut cockfighting ban

By Cynthia Armstrong

SEN. Frank Shurden, the Legislature's leading cockfighting enthusiast, has maneuvered a bill to the Senate floor that would eviscerate the state's voter-approved cockfighting ban. Senate Bill 835 does far more than substitute a weak misdemeanor penalty provision for the felony-level penalties that voters adopted. SB 835 amounts to a section-by-section gutting of State Question 687, which voters approved just a few months ago by 124,000 votes and which passed in two-thirds of the state's state legislative districts.

SB 835 narrows the definition of cockfighting to include fights only if birds have knives or gaffs attached to their legs. Not one of the other 47 state laws against cockfighting has such a narrow and unworkable definition.

If a lookout at a staged fight can get word to handlers in the pit that police are about to enter the arena, cockfighters can quickly pick up their birds and unfasten the knives or gaffs strapped to the birds' legs in order to prevent any arrest. Even if the birds are wounded and dying, and the cockfighters are holding blood-soaked knives, there is no crime as long as the police don't see the metal implements on the birds' legs. No police officer or sheriff would even attempt to enforce such a hollow law.

While SQ 687 banned possession of birds for fighting, Shurden's bill legalizes possession of fighting birds. His bill also makes it legal to maintain facilities for cockfighting. Shurden has narrowed the forfeiture provision in SQ 687 to include only knives and gaffs, thereby legalizing all other equipment used in the cockfighting industry.

In crafting SQ 687, the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting looked to similar state laws to guide us in constructing the proposed anti-cockfighting law. Obviously, the best model for us was the state's
anti- dogfighting law, which the Legislature overwhelmingly adopted in 1982. SQ 687 is almost a carbon copy of the anti- dogfighting law, including its penalty provisions. The Legislature obviously understood then what Shurden would like them to forget now: Strong penalties are a necessary and effective deterrent to animal fighting. Twenty years later, our prisons are not overrun with convicted dogfighters, Oklahoma is not known for its dogfighting industry and dogfighters are not an organized political lobby.

If SB 835 is adopted, cockfighting would be illegal in name only. That's not what the people of Oklahoma want, and they made that clear by resoundingly approving SQ 687 in November. Cockfighting enthusiasts should understand better than anyone that in a fight -- in this case a ballot initiative fight -- there are winners and losers. You cannot rewrite the rules of the election after the outcome is determined.

Surely a majority of our state's elected officials should have the resolve to resist the attempt to undo a statewide election, regardless of their personal opinions about the merits of cockfighting.

Armstrong is treasurer of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.