Hepatitis is another risk associated with tattoos, and it's more difficult to sterilize against than staph organisms. This January, the CDC released a review of studies on tattoos and the hepatitis C virus that concluded there is "no definitive evidence for an increased risk of HCV infection when tattoos and piercings were received in professional parlors." The risk was, however, "significant" when tattoos were performed in home or prison environments. In fact, the CDC report cites two studies that showed a two- to three-times higher risk for HCV infection when the tattoo was received in a nonprofessional setting.

"Everyone that has a legitimate shop in Florida has seen an increase in people with infected tattoos or really bad tattoos done by people working out of their home," says Tom Meyer, who owns Ink Addiction, a shop with locations in Jupiter and Stuart. Meyer is the current president of the guild and has been working in the state since 1990. Nowadays, he says, the guild fluctuates in size from a few dozen dues-paying members to a few hundred; membership grows whenever there's a "so-called emergency."

One aspect of the new legislation that appeals to the guild, Meyer says, is there's now monetary incentive for police and health officials to go after unlicensed tattooists and shops that are in violation. "If someone is tattooing illegally in an unlicensed area and it's a minor, that's three strikes," he says.

A botched Hulk tattoo that Louie salvaged.
Courtesy of Louie
A botched Hulk tattoo that Louie salvaged.
Louie tattooing Dony at his condo in Hialeah this February.
Chris Sweeney
Louie tattooing Dony at his condo in Hialeah this February.

In other words, if an unlicensed artist were caught tattooing a minor (now illegal) in his home (also illegal), he or she could be hit with upward of $5,000 in fines and a felony charge. The chances of getting caught might seem remote, except for one new development: The guild plans to work with health officials to root out underground artists and crack down on subpar shops.

"The big thing with the new law is it's all complaint-driven," Meyer explains. "So now, every time people come in with bad tattoos or tattoo infections, we as professional, legitimate shops will get as much information as we can on who did it and give that information to the health department or local police."

Hannong, who says Stevie Moon's mentality is a stranglehold when it comes to advancing the industry, is dead set on this idea.

"We're in the process of coordinating efforts between the Department of Health as well as law enforcement in each of our areas," Hannong says, "so we can document the illegal activity and then we can issue that to the state attorney in each county and notify the department."

His voice tightens when he's asked if this ambition is driven by concern for public health or concern for shops' profits. He explains everyone needs to respect the pedigree of the profession for it to remain a viable livelihood.

"There's an ongoing state of contention between underground activity and the legitimate industry," he says. "How protective would you be of your industry — being a person of property, having a family, and kids in school — and there being illegal activity that could jeopardize your livelihood?... The statutory language gives the state incentive to go after the underground activity. We as professionals will pursue this diligently to make sure it's followed through."

Tattooists such as Moon say the industry is beautifully self-regulated; word gets around if you're a bad artist — not if you're an unlicensed one. Chico, who owns four shops in Miami, thinks scratchers should be hit with felony charges, but he laughs at the idea of working with the DOH or local police, saying he's no snitch. Guy, an artist at Love Hate Tattoo, says the plan doesn't make sense, that tattooing is an industry driven by being better than other artists, not ratting them out. Marcelo Rodriguez, an artist at the Kendall location of Tattoos by Lou, calls the guild "a bunch of fucking pussies."

Moon is, unsurprisingly, a bit more expressive when told of the guild's plan. His 2009 alliance with the group has since crumbled, and he's "embarrassed" to be tattooing in the same state as its members.

"You're supposed to help your brethren, not fucking burn them down," he says. "This is an organization I thought was supposed to support the community, and instead they want to try to police it. They're a bunch of scared little fucking boys still trying to start a tattoo mafia and make it legit by hiding behind this law and the whole scratcher thing."

Underground artists seem unfazed by the hubbub. Louie has no plans to stop his home-run tattoo business because of the new laws, though he has kicked around the idea of opening a shop. Omar, who runs an immaculate yet illegal shop in Hialeah Gardens, says there are underground artists in every medium — music, painting, and tattoos — and it's the consumer's choice to pick an established or underground shop. Then there's Biggie, a four-foot-11 22-year-old who tried going legit but found the DIY approach easier, cleaner, and more profitable.

"Honestly, I don't think the law is gonna do anything," she says over a cup of coffee.

While growing up in Miami Gardens, Biggie made lists of the tattoos she wanted. Her mom died when she was 4, and her twin sister died when they were teenagers. Of her five brothers, one is serving in Afghanistan, one is serving a life sentence, and she doesn't speak to another. All of this information drips out in a take-it-as-it-comes tone without a hint of self-pity. Biggie says she had two options in life upon graduating from William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in Miami: "get a security license or get a tattoo starter kit."

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They kill themselves.I wanted a spiderweb on my elbow and they wanted $360.00 bucks.BS.That kind of money for a few lines is thievery.They all are bandids.They should all be driven out of the busiuness.In fact tattooing should be made illegal.AsI said they re all hoods.

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