As Oklahoma moves closer and closer to passing legislation making tattooing legal, local residents are gearing up for the change.

Karen and Burt Smith, owners of Safari Body Jewelry and Accessories, have eight tattoos each, including wedding band tattoos instead of the traditional metal ring.

“We plan to add tattooing to this location if [Senate Bill 806] passes and once all the regulations are worked out,” said Karen. “Someone told us we will have to move from this location [near Sequoyah City Park], but according to the language of the bill, only new businesses are subject to the 1,000-feet away from a school, park or church rule.”

Monday, April 17, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 70-28 to legalize and regulate tattooing. The bill must still return to the state Senate.

Senate Bill 806, authored by Rep. Al Lindley (D-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta), would legalize the practice in the only state in the nation where tattooing is still taboo. This is the seventh year Lindley has filed legislation to regulate tattooing in the state.

As of last Thursday, the bill has been signed, engrossed and returned to the state Senate.

Chris Craig, “CC” as he’s known to his friends, has several tattoos, all speak to his spirituality.

“People get the wrong impression about people who have tattoos,” said Craig. “Mine are very religious. People might know more about Christianity if they actually read their Bibles.”

According to Craig, the popular Bible passage relating to not injuring oneself relates more to pagan ritual.

“The Bible says you’re not supposed to ‘let blood for the dead,’” said Craig. “Which means you’re not supposed to participate in ritualistic destruction of your body to raise the dead, things like that.”

Craig is a friend of the Smiths, and Karen is quick to talk about his devotion to God.

“If you’ll notice, he has flames tattooed up and down both arms,” said Karen. “He was in a really bad motorcycle accident and died three or four times before they completely revived him. His tattoos are a reflection of God saving his life. One says ‘Only God can judge me.’”

According to Karen, Craig lived one way before the accident, and lives a completely different way now.

“Chris is in church every Wednesday and Sunday,” she said. “He’s also a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association.”

Safari has a number of customers who are preachers part-time, according to Karen.

“People need to lose the idea that tattoos are bad or wrong,” she said.

Matt Westmoreland has six tattoos, one of which he did himself, albeit illegally.

“I got one in Ohio,” said Westmoreland. “The rest I’ve gotten here. All but one were done with homemade tattoo guns, I’ve only had one done with a real gun.”

Westmoreland has completed several tattoos, but doesn’t plan on making it a career.

“I know how to draw a line,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve tattooed my brother-in-law’s neck and given him one on his chest. But I’m not talented enough to make it a career.”

Westmoreland anticipates a lot of red tape when it comes to the regulation phase if the bill passes, but believes it’s worth the wait.

“It’s better to do it [get tattooed] legally,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your eye out, because some people don’t sterilize their needles properly.”

Senate Bill 806 would give the state Department of Health regulatory oversight of tattoo parlors and require that all facilities be inspected at least twice a year.

Individuals providing tattoos would be required to obtain training and education on blood-borne pathogens similar to the training most medical professionals receive.

Under the bill’s provisions, only licensed individuals would be allowed to obtain tattoo supplies.

Lindley noted the serious health risks associated with unregulated tattooing that currently occurs in Oklahoma.

An individual who receives a tattoo in an unregulated setting is two-to-three times as likely to contract hepatitis C, according to health officials. A study released by the Oklahoma Department of Health reviewing data from 2000 to 2004 showed a 78 percent increase in hepatitis C infections occurred in Oklahoma during that time period and that 34 percent of the individuals who acquired hepatitis C had a tattoo.

Westmoreland is very aware of the health risks of illegal tattooing, and responds accordingly.

“There are a lot of good people [tattoo artists] out there,” he said. “But there are some who don’t have the experience and will hack you up.”



What’s next

The final of a two-part series about body art delves into the rising popularity of body piercings.

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