If South Carolina lawmakers want to stamp out cockfighting, they need to make it a felony. Thankfully, state senators last week took the first steps toward doing just that.
In 2006, the Legislature made both dogfighting and hog-dogging felony offenses. While some lawmakers had sought to add cockfighting to the list of felonious activities, it was excluded.
As a result, those involved in cockfighting -- including the 33 arrested in a York County bust last month involving five law enforcement agencies -- are subject only to misdemeanor charges with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail. As some critics have noted, a $1,000 fine can be written off as the cost of doing business.
Last week, however, a proposal to make cockfighting a felony was approved by a state Senate subcommittee. The measure now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Under this proposal, fighting game birds or attending a cockfight would be a felony. Possession of gamecocks for fighting -- which currently is not outlawed at all -- also would be a felony. First convictions would come with a fine of $500 to $1,000 or six months to five years in prison. A second or subsequent conviction would bring a fine of $1,000 to $3,000 or one to five years in prison.
Critics of this legislation, including several who testified before the Senate panel, argue that cockfighting is a centuries-old sport practiced by their ancestors. This is much the same argument proponents made in favor of hog-dogging and dogfighting, both of which have been practiced for centuries.
But society's attitudes evolve, and that includes concerns for the humane treatment of animals. Most no longer view blood sports involving animals as acceptable in civilized society. Tradition alone is no justification for forcing animals to fight to the death.
Law enforcement agents also view cockfights as fertile ground for gambling and drug use. Betting almost always is a component of cockfighting.
Finally, though, concerns about drugs, betting or even the welfare of animals is of less concern than the fact that permitting the cruel exploitation of animals for entertainment degrades us all. South Carolina needs to join 35 other states in making this crime a felony.
Senate measure would put some teeth in the laws that outlaw cockfighting.