Pennsylvania lawmakers are taking a hard look at branding

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

The father was livid. His 14-year-old son returned from a sleepover with multiple outlines of a 3-inch nail seared forever onto his torso.

A young adult acquaintance showed the boy how to brand himself, the boy's family later told state Rep. Keith Gillespie, a York County Republican.

The father went to police, but state minimum age limits for tattoos and piercings don't address high-temperature branding of human flesh, the man learned. A bill Gillespie introduced this fall would change that, barring anyone from branding someone under 18 except with parental consent.

“It's burning the skin. It creates a third-degree burn,” said state Rep. Martin Schmotzer, D-Whitehall, a bill co-sponsor. “I just don't think, from a health standpoint, from a safety standpoint, that this is a very good thing.”

Pennsylvania forbids tattooing and body-piercing minors without parental consent. Gillespie has 24 co-sponsors for his bill, which he said would mirror existing body-art rules. It also would prevent people from guiding youngsters to brand themselves, he said.

Branding often involves a hot metal implement held against the skin, leaving permanent scars in some design or pattern. Whether the practice has gained major traction was unclear Friday.

At Alter Ego Body Art Studio in Dormont, owner Dave Spik said it's no more popular than it was a decade ago.

His shop brands someone perhaps every four months — and never anyone under the age of 18, Spik said. He said branding ranks a distant third behind tattooing and piercing “on the body-modification totem pole.”

Spik called the branding bill “absolutely paramount.”

“I think it is a necessity because there are people out there who don't care about children,” he said.

State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, is among the bill's co-sponsors. He dubbed it “common-sense legislation.”

“I think we have to be very cautious with young people just going out and doing this on their own,” Readshaw said.

Violators would be charged with misdemeanors. Gillespie said the proposal likely will be discussed in the next legislative session in January.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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