Gamefowl breeders rally to keep cockfighting legal

Wednesday, February 4th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gamefowl breeders demanded legislation Wednesday that would exempt rural Oklahomans from a voter-approved ban on cockfighting, calling the blood sport part of the culture of rural America.

About 500 gamefowl breeders from across the nation, including many Hispanics, crowded into the state Capitol where lawmakers and breeders alike hammered animal rights groups that spearheaded the drive to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma.

``Our belief in our freedom is what it's about,'' said Sen. Frank Shurden, who has authored a bill to authorize cockfighting on a county-option basis.

``What the Humane Society (of the United States) and the people of Oklahoma did was wrong,'' said Shurden, D-Henryetta. ``What we've got to do is counteract this thing. We have our way of life.''

Nativo V. Lopez of Los Angeles, national director of the National Mexican Brotherhood, said his organization supports Hispanic gamecock breeders who continue to operate in Oklahoma.

``Our culture and our history was cockfighting,'' Lopez said. ``The founders of our country were cockfighters.''

Breeders, many wearing T-shirts that read ``Unity is Strength,'' shouted ``Viva Mexico!'' as Lopez addressed Hispanic breeders in Spanish.

``This has never been about chickens,'' said Kelly Barger, a gamefowl breeder from Pawnee. ``This has been about personal rights, personal freedoms and personal liberties that we were granted under the Constitution.''

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society, said the statewide ban should remain in effect in Oklahoma and that cockfighting should also be banned in Louisiana and New Mexico, the only two states where it remains legal.

``We think there should be no safe haven for cockfighters in the United States,'' Pacelle said.

``Cockfighters instigate fights between animals for amusement and illegal gambling. In a society that bans dogfighting everywhere, cockfighting should be banned with a similar reach,'' he said.

Legislation proposed in Congress would make it a felony to transport birds or other animals for fighting. The measure also would ban the transportation of gaffs, the spiked steel blades worn by game cocks during a match.

A statewide referendum that made cockfighting a felony in Oklahoma passed by a 125,000-vote margin in November 2002, but it failed in 57 of the state's 77 counties, mostly in rural areas.

Breeders have won injunctions against enforcement of the ban in 34 counties where cockfighting is still legal.

Cockfighters claim the ban is unconstitutionally vague and deprives them of their property. The ban makes possessing game cocks for fighting and taking part in cockfights a felony.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has been asked to decide the issue.

Shurden has also proposed legislation to reduce cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor.

``We have better ways to spend our money than making our good citizens criminals,'' said Anthony W.H. DeVore, a native of Durant and criminal justice program director at the Southeastern Career Institute in Dallas.

Shurden said gamefowl breeding is a $100 million business in Oklahoma and that the ban has hurt breeders and communities where breeders operate.

``This is not chicken feed. This is big stuff,'' Shurden said.