Dumb D.C. Rules: Tattoo and Body Piercing Edition

Looking to get a tattoo or body piercing in the near future? Live in the District of Columbia? Well soon you may have to wait a full 24 hours after you request it before you can get inked. That’s just one of many new rules that D.C. officials have proposed for tattoo parlors and piercing shops. Sound absurd? That’s because it is.

What exactly is a regulation like this trying to accomplish? Stop drunken twenty-somethings that get a tramp stamp after losing a bet or preventing minors from getting a tongue ring without their parents’ knowledge? Sure, the Department of Health is looking out for these people, but the entire measure is paternalistic. If someone wants to get a tattoo, they shouldn’t have to wait a full day to do so.

Licensing requirements are a government-created barrier to entry for new tattoo parlors.

Licensing requirements are a government-created barrier for new tattoo parlors.

At the same time, many of the proposed rules are important for safety reasons. They require tattoo parlors to inform their customers about the risks involved or if they have certain conditions that could adversely impact receiving a tattoo. Those are necessary. But a 24-hour waiting period? That’s nonsense.

This brings me to one of my biggest qualms here: licensing requirements. Licensing requirements for D.C. tattoo parlors isn’t new, but was implemented last year and is a large barrier to entry for new shops. The question is, do tattoo parlors really need to be licensed? The answer here is probably yes. Getting inked has potential dangers and ensuring that tattoo parlors follow proper safety procedures and are registered and monitored by the city’s Department of Health is smart public policy.

But it’s not clear-cut.

Consider the alternative. In a world without tattoo licensing requirements, would unsafe or bad tattoo parlors exist? Would we have an epidemic of crappy tattoos or people infected by unsterilized needles? Probably not. Those tattoo parlors would go out of business as people stayed away from them. Yelp would be particularly helpful in weeding them out. That’s how the free market works. Licensing requirements eliminate those unsafe shops, but they do so through government regulation. The reason that those requirements are good here is because an unsanitary tattoo parlor could stay in business for a while and infect a number of people. That’s enough of a public health concern to make the rule necessary.

But the rule does more than just ensure that tattoo parlors are safe. It also is a barrier to new entrants into the industry. After all, going through the process of receiving a license takes time and resources. The city also requires tattoo artists to take classes before earning their license. That costs money and takes time as well. It gives current tattoo parlors a built-in advantage over new entrants. No wonder that D.C. council member Yevette Alexander said that tattoo parlors came to her to ask for the licensing requirement.

Maybe we should require council members to wait 24 hours before suggesting new regulations that the industry itself proposed. That’s just as arbitrary.


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