SALT LAKE CITY — A bill seeking to make cockfighting a felony in Utah was met with opposition Friday.
About 20 people, mostly men, raised their hands Friday when asked who was opposed to the bill sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, that would increase the penalties for participating in game fowl fighting to a third-degree felony and attending a fight to a class B misdemeanor.
"This whole notion of the criminal element and illegal gambling and seedy backroom cockfighting is just simply not the case," said David Devereaux, director of the American Gamefowl Defense Network. "If you want to see that as a reality, continue to increase the punishment, designate it a felony, and drive it so far underground that normal, law-abiding and average people who have been involved in it for generations are no longer involved in it."
The rift over cockfighting is evidence of the growing divide between urban and rural cultures, Devereaux said. Increasing penalties for cockfighting would needlessly impact already overcrowded prisons, he said, and could grant a foothold to those who would seek to criminalize hunting and fishing for sport.
He answered Davis' argument that fowl fighting is violent and cruel to the animals by saying that Utah law currently doesn't require domesticated birds killed for food to be anesthetized before their beaks and feet are removed for slaughter.
Devereaux said he believes cockfighting, which he says traces back to the Founding Fathers and Utah's settlement, should ultimately be legalized and regulated.
Davis has long made the argument that by not following suit of its neighboring states and designating game fowl fighting as a felony, Utah will become a magnet for the practice, bringing with it a fringe of crime, violence and drug trafficking.
The bill passed out of committee with only one nay vote, which came from committee Chairman Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.
Madsen voted against the bill last year, which eventually failed in the House.
"I have a problem creating felonies. It's a big step," Madsen said, noting that while he appreciated changes to this year's version of the bill, he still could not support it.
Devereaux's arguments, Madsen added, gave him additional pause and made him curious to learn more.