OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As a bill that would reduce the cockfighting punishment advances into legislature, animal advocacy groups who are against the act are coming together.

The groups met Thursday to help stop the bill from passing and they say law enforcement isn’t doing enough to enforce Oklahoma’s 20-year ban on cockfighting.  

The comes as efforts to essentially decriminalize cockfighting moves through the state capitol. 

An investigation by Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy suggests staging fights between birds in Oklahoma is becoming a problem in Oklahoma. 

The bill is being considered to reduce the cockfighting punishment even after Oklahomans voted to ban cockfighting in the state under State Question 687 in 2002. 

Representative Justin J.J. Humphrey’s measure to change cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor passed in the House’s Judiciary-Criminal committee. 

“People voted to outlaw it. They made it illegal. I’m not trying to change people’s vote, but what I am saying is that the people didn’t set the penalty. The state legislators set that, and the state has voted to reduce penalties in that same time period. And that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Justin J.J. Humphrey, Member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

At Thursday’s press conference, the Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy groups argued law enforcement isn’t taking action to illegal cockfighting activities. 

From 2004 to 2022, they said only 29 cases of cockfighting were investigated in Oklahoma, which amounts to less than two per year.  

“Law enforcement knows that cockfighting is invariably connected to gambling. Why else have cockfight if you aren’t going to bet on the outcome? Possession of firearms, distribution of drugs and by its very existence tends to taint law enforcement for not taking action against it. So, it’s a corrupting influence wherever it exists in the state of Oklahoma,” said Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma Attorney General (1994-2010), Co-Chair, Animal Wellness National Law Enforcement Council.  

“In other cases, like in Bryan County, you had a very good sheriff, Johnny Christian, who busted a cockfight in Bryan County about two years ago. 200 people were apprehended. But the district attorney failed to bring charges against 199 of them because one person had minor charges brought against him. This is a pattern of deficient enforcement. And the legislative response should be to seek additional or provide additional resources for law enforcement, not to weaken the laws,” said Wayne Pacelle, president, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. 

Thursday the group also claimed that the leaders of the Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission are lobbying lawmakers to gut the voter-approved law. 

“They seem to be inviting them to break the federal law. All lawmakers swear an oath to the Oklahoma Constitution and to the United States Constitution to see that the laws are enforced. I don’t see that oath is being honored in advancing this legislation,” said Pacelle. 

Wayne Pacelle also said the commission has made more political donations made to lawmakers in the last 18 months than there have been cockfighting busts in 18 years. 

“What we’re seeing is that fighters are donating to the Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission, and they’re not disclosing who the money is from, which is a violation of law. And they’re giving it to politicians in the hopes of influencing,” said Pacelle.  

Representative Humphrey is stressing his bill won’t make cockfighting legal again. 

“So, I believe I’m trying to do the will of the people, which is criminal justice reform,” said Humphrey. 

We asked the Game Fowl Commission for a comment.

“The leaders of the Gamefowl Commission sent us a statement saying quote, “As for the claim of the leaders being involved in cockfighting, that is absolutely false. All of the OGC leaders lobbying for reform do NOT participate in cockfighting, all three raise, sell and export gamefowl overseas legally for breeding purposes ONLY. The bill is not about cockfighting. It is about Criminal Justice Reform. It’s about making the punishment fit the crime. Currently, for simply owning a gamecock you could be charged with a 10 year felony. The same as murdering an unborn child and more than a Pedophilia charge. Furthermore, Fentanyl  drug possession, is a misdemeanor that killed over 800 people in Oklahoma last year.  We just don’t see the equality in punishment for owning a gamecock to be more than a drug that killed over 800 people last year. Passing this bill will keep the voter approved law intact by keeping it 100% illegal to fight Gamefowl. We employ the same methods as those who are accusing us of “buying influence” in the capital. As Americans we all have the right to attempt to change any law we disagree with.  Currently, Wayne Pacelle is funneling out of state money through the Kirkpatrick Foundation to influence his opinion. Wayne was sued by former attorney general Scott Pruitt for stealing money from Oklahoma citizens. Wayne had to pay back $1.3 million. Furthermore, Wayne’s sexual misconduct with former employees at the HSUS is well documented. Why do we listen to his opinions in Oklahoma?” said Dr. Anthony DeVore, Ed.d, President, Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission.

The animal advocacy groups also said there is a new federal bill in the works to ban the shipment of all live adult chicken roosters regardless of the reason. They said it would ease the enforcement burden on law enforcement in making these cases. 

They said a marker bill was introduced in the U.S. House, H.R. 9309, in the last Congress and Animal Wellness Action is lobbying for this to be included in the upcoming Federal Farm Bill. The bill is being led by Rep. Don Bacon, R-NE, in the 118th Congress.

FIGHT Act = Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-risk Trafficking Act. That is the name of the bill for the 118th Congress.