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Friday, April 04, 2014

Foot-in-Mouth Disease Strikes Kentucky Senate candidate

GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin has offered a number of excuses, since news broke that he attended a rally organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. He said he’s “never been to a cockfight, don’t condone cockfighting,” but stopped short of saying unequivocally that he opposes animal fighting or that he supports the enforcement of anti-cockfighting laws. Bevin also said he “doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.” But the cockfighters at the event were advocating for the repeal of the state’s anti-cockfighting statute. The point of the rally was to overturn Kentucky’s weak law against cockfighting, so how does Bevin’s invoking states’ rights clarify his participation at the event? 

His latest claim is that animal fighting is an American tradition. “But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin told Louisville’s WHAS News Radio. “This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky, for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very actively involved in this and always have been. These are things that are part of a tradition and a heritage that go back for hundreds of years and were very integral early on in this country. ”

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Photo by KRGV

Very integral?  Hardly.  While the cockfighters would have us believe there were fighting pits at Mount Vernon and Monticello, there is no historical evidence to support claims that the Founding Fathers were involved in animal fighting. There is evidence, however, that they actively sought to root out the cruelty, which they saw as frivolous and detracting from the seriousness of the Revolutionary War effort. The First Continental Congress passed legislation in 1774 to “discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of games, cock fighting, exhibitions of shows, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

Since that time, all 50 states have banned dogfighting and cockfighting, with dogfighting a felony in all 50 and cockfighting now a felony in 41. The members of the organized criminal network of cockfighters flock to the remaining states, like Kentucky, with anemic misdemeanor penalties, hoping that law enforcement will look the other way. They bring with them the associated activities of drugs, prostitution, and other crimes. It’s an underworld enterprise, and it’s still such a problem that the U.S. Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through.

State legislatures around the country, too, are working to fortify their animal fighting statutes. Louisiana, the last state in the union to prohibit cockfighting, is now considering a bill to strengthen the law by upgrading the penalties and banning the possession of knives, gaffs, and other cockfighting weapons. It appears that Matt Bevin isn’t the only politician who is confused about cockfighting: Although the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote, Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, said the bill interferes with “a legitimate sport known as chicken boxing.”

Whether some politicians invoke “chicken boxing,” “states’ rights,” or “American tradition,” these words amount to code for some form of decriminalization, so that cockfighters can still pursue their hobby without penalty.  The fact is, there’s no moral or rational justification for strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of birds, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces, just for the entertainment of spectators who gamble on the fights and are titillated by the violence and bloodletting. There’s a difference between “liberty” and “license” and the cockfighters don’t seem to understand it.  Now, in Kentucky, there’s a politician who doesn’t either.

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