Oklahoma tattoo parlors thrive in only state that bans them

Monday, October 3rd 2005, 6:23 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Tattoo artists are thriving in Oklahoma, which is the only state in the nation where tattooing is a crime.

The proliferation of tattoo parlors -- some of which operate openly and advertise their services -- has sparked a cultural debate over whether Oklahoma's ban should be lifted and a system of regulations imposed to address growing health concerns.

But attempts to legalize tattooing were blocked last spring by Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House. Similar measures have languished in recent years due to opposition from lawmakers on moral grounds.

Shawnee state Representative Kris Steele -- a Baptist minister who chairs a state House committee that refused to hear a Senate-passed tattoo bill -- says it's not a moral issue for him.

Steele cited state Department of Health reports that indicate a connection between unsanitary tattooing practices and an increase in hepatitis C infections.

Heightened interest in Oklahoma's tattoo law led to a series of arrests of tattoo artists last spring including Billy Jack Charnik, who has two court dates this month on separate misdemeanor charges of unlawful tattooing.

State law defines a tattoo as "a permanent indelible mark" created by a needle that is visible on the skin. Defense attorneys convinced a judge that tattoos can be removed and aren't permanent.