by David Ramsey
Worth highlighting Rep. Nate Bell’s thoughts:
The bottom line is I don't think it's the proper role of government to tell people what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.
Frankly the number of people that are going to be affected by this in Arkansas isn't huge....I certainly don't have any implantations or piercings or scarification. But as I look at it, fundamentally, that's an unreasonable encroachment on personal liberty.
One other thing I’ll add is that Robert Brech, the Health Department attorney interviewed for the story, was very generous with his time and we had a nice chat at the Capitol. While I’m totally unpersuaded by his arguments, I understand where he’s coming from.
One thing that didn’t make it in to the story is that, since we’re talking prohibition, I asked him about alcohol. He immediately said that of course that had a dramatically worse public health impact than anything that happens in a tattoo shop, but gave me the lawyerly dodge that the Health Department doesn’t regulate alcohol but it does regulate body artists.
Although the Health Department has never identified a single case of infection from the practices banned by the bill, nor do they have any research or data about the health risks, I am not saying that there is not a risk of infection. Where I get skeptical is legislators trying to manage that risk for others. There’s really not a lot in the way of negative externalities here (unlike booze!). I think that smart regulation of the industry and clear information for consumers is a good thing. And then let adults decide what they want to do with their own bodies.
We make these kinds of societal tradeoffs all the time. Some things, like alcohol, may cause a lot of harm but we conclude that prohibition is ineffective and only creates more problems than it solves. As Brech readily admitted, there are countless perfectly legal activities and behaviors that have various health risks. Some are unusual, some we take for granted. Many are regulated in some way. What he was never able to explain to me is why this particular activity is worthy of special attention, and of an absolute ban rather than regulation.
For me, I’d argue that attempts to control people’s personal behavior via prohibition regimes will generally be failures, even if well-intentioned. I would argue that our single most nonsensical and pernicious domestic policy on the federal level is rooted in this kind of thinking (I’ll let you guess what!). Others may disagree.
In the case of body modification, though, I think the case is pretty clear. We’re not just trying to police the individual behavior of others. We’re trying to police behavior that has little to no impact on anyone else. When we do that, we are at our worst.
p.s. Sen. Irving previously hasn't responded to requests for comment but she got in touch last night. I hope to interview her soon to get her perspective and will post to the blog.