Damon Root on the Rise and Fall of the New York City Tattoo Ban


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This weekend the Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan will play host to the 17th Annual New York City Tattoo Convention, a three-day event featuring hundreds of artists from around the world. Attendees will have the opportunity to get inked, get pierced, or simply gawk at a wide assortment of colorfully adorned bodies. It's a weird and wonderful display of what the philosopher Robert Nozick once called "capitalist acts between consenting adults."

Yet if the same convention had been staged in the same location just two decades earlier, writes Senior Editor Damon Root, every tattooist at work could have been arrested on the spot. That's because New York City only legalized tattooing in 1997. As Root explains, the story of New York City's tattoo ban presents the classic case of government regulators using a bogus public health pretext to hound an unpopular activity out of existence.