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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
While the United States Congress remains divided on so many topics of the day, there are some issues you would think we could all agree on. A proposal that would assist law enforcement agencies in enforcing existing laws that reduce violence and illegal gambling and that protect the safety of communities and children is one of those issues.
As of March 11, 119 members of the House of Representatives are cosponsoring legislation that would make it a federal crime to attend an animal fight and a felony to bring a child to an animal fight. The bill is called the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act and is numbered as HR 366. Similar legislation was introduced in the previous Congress and won two Senate floor votes. Unfortunately, despite having been endorsed by approximately 300 law enforcement agencies, last year’s bill never received a floor vote in the House.
Spectators are more than just mere bystanders at animal fights. These criminal operations are financed by spectator admission fees and gambling dollars. Each time two more animals are placed in the pit, the spectators start shouting out bets, gambling on which animal will kill the other. Like the child pornography industry, organized animal fighting depends on viewers. Without spectators, organized animal fights wouldn’t exist.
Furthermore, animal fighters use the spectator loophole as a means to avoid prosecution. At the first sign of a raid, many will abandon their animals and claim to be spectators as a way to avoid prosecution.
While 49 states have laws banning attendance at dogfights and 43 states prohibit attending cockfights, many animal fighting rings are multi-jurisdictional in nature: a pit in one state can serve as the destination point for dogfighters or cockfighters from across an entire region. A local sheriff does not have the authority to go to other states to question people who may be involved in an animal fighting ring that originates in his back yard but involves people living in other jurisdictions. In those cases, federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture step in and investigate. Federal agents use federal laws, not state laws.
It is ironic that in the smaller cases that are handled at the local level, almost every state allows for the entire cast of characters at an animal fight, including spectators, to be prosecuted. But in the most important cases that are handled at the federal level, law enforcement lacks the power to root out the entire operation.
Another grave concern is that children are so often present at these animal fights. It is hard to imagine the short-term and long-term effects on children exposed to such violence, bloodshed, cruelty and criminal activity. One recent case put a spotlight on this very issue. In December, police in Chester County, Pa., discovered a dogfighting pit in the very home where five children lived.
In all probability, taxpayer money will be expended at some point in these children’s lives to address the harm done to them while growing up amid such activity. This is why HR 366 makes it a federal felony to knowingly bring a minor to an animal fight.
Finally, easing the ability of law enforcement agencies to work together fosters efficiency, and efficiency reduces spending.
This legislation is pending in both the House Agriculture and Judiciary committees. Rep. Bob Goodlatte chairs the Judiciary Committee and is vice chairman of the Agriculture Committee. Our congressman is well placed to use his power to get this bill passed into law. Passage of HR 366 is the responsible thing to do politically, socially and fiscally. Make us proud, congressman.
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