But Amundson doesn't mind his hectic agenda; he thinks it will be worth it if he successfully passes a state law regulating body piercing, a project he's been working on intensively since late last year. The bill--it's been drafted, and will likely be introduced in the state legislature this week, once Amundson and his allies fine-tune the language and nail down a sponsor--would codify body piercing health and safety standards (like sterilization practices), and establish age restrictions for people who want to get pierced. Thirty-four other states have similar laws, points out Amundson, a piercing-industry advocate with thick metal hooks in each earlobe, smaller rings above them, and a ring between his nostrils. He wants to "bring professionalism to the industry, and take a stance on public health and safety," in this state.
Right now, most body piercings shops, including the one where Amundson works, voluntarily adhere to professional standards like checking IDs and requiring parental permission to pierce anyone under 18 years old. But Washington State has no laws specifically covering piercing. Without oversight, some piercers flout the industry standards, piercing minors without a parent's permission. While that might sound pretty cool to a 15-year-old who wants a nose ring, Amundson thinks it's a bad idea, because he believes piercing is anatomy specific. Teens in general aren't physically developed enough to fully retain some piercings. "It's an invasive, cosmetic, nonmedical procedure done by an adult on a minor," he adds. Piercers--though trained--aren't licensed, certified, or registered with the state, like medical professionals are. In addition to the health concerns, he's got safety concerns: Amundson is uneasy about potentially vulnerable teens spending time alone in a piercing room with an adult who's igoring industry norms. "The bottom line is, I think this is wrong. I will do whatever I can to stop it."
Amundson's not the only one who's got a problem with underage piercing without parental consent. Linda, a fortysomething mom in the Seattle's North End who declined to give her last name, was irate when her 17-year-old daughter came home last May with a pierced lip--Linda had told her daughter she'd have to wait until she was 18. Linda went to the shop where her daughter told her she had been pierced, Golden Body Rings on Aurora Avenue North, just north of Green Lake. There, she met the shop's owner, Kurtis Kirk--a 50-year-old longtime body piercer--and asked why he'd pierced her daughter. "He kind of muscled me out--he said, 'Get out of my store,'" Linda says. "He said he was going to call the police." She ended up filing a complaint with the state attorney general's office. Her daughter later told her that Kirk is well known among high-schoolers as the go-to guy for piercings behind mom and dad's backs. "[My daughter said] all the kids know that's where you go, you don't have to have your parents' permission," Linda says.
An online body-piercing zine that includes customers' reviews of piercing shops contains entries from people as young as 13 who claim they went to Kirk's shop. "I went when I was 13. I heard about it through high school," a young woman named Ashley told The Stranger. Ashley, a former Shorewood High School student who wrote up Kirk's shop online after she got her tongue pierced there, is now 19 and doesn't want her last name used.
Dylan Wood, 16, whose mother also filed a complaint with the attorney general, told The Stranger his story: "[Kirk] would make up reasons why I would want to get piercings in other places," he says. "He told me that I would want to get my tongue pierced to give girls pleasure, and I should get my nipples pierced."
Kirk, reached three times via phone at his Aurora shop, adamantly declined to address the complaints or the pending legislation that would outlaw piercing minors without parental consent. "Big deal if I pierce someone underage. If there was something wrong with what I'm doing I'd be doing 99 years in Walla Walla," he told The Stranger when we first contacted him last October. He also pointed out he hasn't been convicted of any crime related to his business, and that there's no law precluding underage piercing. That's true--which throws the spotlight on Amundson's bill. He wants to put regulations in place because minors getting pierced without parental permission leads to complaints, which could give his field a bad rap.
In Seattle, Kirk is the one collecting complaints: In addition to Linda, two other moms have filed complaints with the state attorney general. Robin Barish, a single mother of two teenagers, also filed a complaint after her son Dylan went to Golden Body Rings and got his tongue pierced last fall. "I went down there and told [Kirk] to remove it," Barish says. "He swore at me in words that I've never heard before." A third mother filed a complaint with the attorney general's office about Kirk, alleging that he pierced her underage child without parental permission in April 2003. The mother, who lives on Greenwood Avenue but could not be reached for comment, called the shop: "I was told he could pierce anyone, regardless of their age, without parental permission," she wrote in her complaint. "He then said he didn't want to talk to me, and hung up on me." There are no complaints on record with the attorney general's office about any of the 12 other Seattle body-piercing shops or tattoo shops that offer body piercing listed in the yellow pages. Golden Body Rings has an "unsatisfactory" rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) as well--BBB records indicate that Kirk did not respond to a complaint; other Seattle body-piercing shops either aren't listed or have "satisfactory" records with the bureau. But again, Kirk's alleged practice of piercing minors without parental permission is not illegal, no matter how much parents dislike it.
Amundson says Kirk isn't the target of his bill. But Amundson is optimistic that the bill--the third since 1997 to hit Olympia--will pass, and will ultimately benefit parents, teens, and piercers. He's getting help from another "concerned parent"--this one, conveniently enough, has past lobbying experience--and the meetings he's had in Olympia with the Department of Health, members of the legislature's health committee, and pro-choice lobbyists have been positive. (Pro-choice lobbyists want to fine-tune the bill's "parental consent" section to clearly protect existing abortion rights for minors. Amundson says it shouldn't be a problem to find the right language, since abortions are performed by medical professionals, and piercing is not.) "It's a win-win bill," he says. "Shops that pierce minors without parental consent are not going to be in business very long."