Is Cockfighting a Constitutional Right?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

A group of demonstrators gathered in London, Kentucky, on Monday to protest the recently passed Farm Bill, as Senate Minority Leader McConnell and a delegation swung through Eastern Kentucky promoting economic-development proposals.

The protesters are angry at McConnell for voting for the amendment to the $956 billion Farm Bill that makes it a federal crime to attend an animal fight, or to bring a child under 16 years of age to such an event.

They say it takes away their rights, WYMT News reports.

"This will destroy Mitch McConnell in Kentucky," said Craig Davis, president of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association (UGBA).

"We will not stand idly by and let this injustice happen to the Kentucky citizens or the citizens of any state," he proclaimed, "It's up to us to protect the gamefowl community.”

The feud over the bill is pretty consistent among cockfighters all over the state, according to Davis. There are threats of doing serious political damage to McConnell in the May 20 Republican primary.


The new law makes attending a cockfight or dogfight a federal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and $100,000 fine.

Bringing a minor to such fights is now a federal felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In an interview on Tuesday with the Herald-Leader, Davis said the new law can have any number of “unintended consequences that make criminals of law-abiding citizens.”

If he is referring to cockfighters, cockfighting is already illegal in all 50 states. It is currently only a misdemeanor offense in Kentucky, but that doesn’t make it legal.

John Goodwin, Director of Animal Cruelty policy for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said cockfighting advocates are right to be concerned.

“The penalties included in the new federal law put serious teeth into what is already criminal activity,” he said, “although Kentucky law enforcement officials have rarely cited individuals for the misdemeanor offense of cockfighting.”

"I think we're going to get some enforcement," Goodwin told the Herald-Leader. "Law enforcement agents all across the country are really tired of these cockfighting pits, because they see the cruelty, but they see these pits are magnets for other crime as well."

“Cockfighting is already a felony offense in a majority of states, but the risk of being caught in Kentucky has been more than offset by gambling profits,” Goodwin said.

"Now, if the feds raid a cockfighting pit, anyone there can pay fines and do prison time," Goodwin said. "All the gambling dollars are not going to offset that. They're starting to figure out, 'Hey, there may not be a future in cockfighting.'"

Craig Davis of the UGBA boasts that he can “move as many as 60,000 votes against McConnell if their concerns are not heard.”

But, fans of cockfighting are unlikely to find a political patron to take up their cause, Goodwin predicted.

"What they've got to realize is, at the federal level, there's nobody in Congress who wants to buddy up with people engaged in something that is illegal in all 50 states," he said.

Davis said ties between cockfighting and illegal gambling and drugs are overstated.

For many rural Kentuckians, Davis said, breeding gamefowl is crucial to supplementing incomes decimated by the decline of coal and a dearth of manufacturing jobs. Hens used for breeding can sell for $100 and roosters can sell for $250, but Davis said “two hens and a rooster that come from a winning progeny can fetch as much as $1,500.”

"When you make a law like that you take good taxpaying people and you turn them into criminals overnight," Davis said, inferring that robust taxes are paid on the sale of gamefowl and gambling activities.

"The grassroots on this are not playing games anymore. They've been beaten and battered for 30 years. They're rural people. They want to be left alone."

Davis' group also wants the Kentucky legislature to pass a law that would guarantee their right to hold cock fights, says the Herald-Leader, much as Kentucky voters amended the state constitution in 2012 to protect their right to hunt and fish.

Sources: WKYT, Herald-Leader