Mike Ferguson, owner and operator of 1st Amendment Tattoo in Temecula, learned to question authority the hard way.
He was in his early 20s, living in Boston, when he discovered his love of tattoos. Then, only months after he picked up the needle and began learning the art, the local government ripped it from his hands. Boston actually illegalized tattooing.
Ferguson was shocked that the city would make such an elitist, judgmental decision. So in 1992, he left Boston for Minneapolis to open his own shop.
In Minneapolis, he set his sights on questioning another, higher authority. He named his shop Leviticus Tattoo, because the Bible forbids tattooing in Leviticus 19:28. “A lot of people don’t know that [Bible verse.] That was a big fuck you,” he says, pointing a finger to the sky. “I was more rebellious back then.”
Ferguson’s shop flourished. Then, on a whim, he took a trip to California and fell in love with the state. “I was excited about the whole idea of moving to SoCal,” he says. He opened up a new shop 1st Amendment Tattoo because of his love for the freedom of speech. “Thank God for Larry Flynt. [The First Amendment] is the reason I can say ‘fuck’ in public,” says Ferguson. “America wouldn’t be what it is without the First Amendment.”
Ferguson uses his freedom of speech in every way possible. At a recent tattoo convention, he and his wife, Twana, passed out T-shirts that depicted George W. Bush in a Hitler Youth uniform. “This administration has completely disregarded the First Amendment,” says Ferguson.
Another design depicted the Pope as a pedophile. “We’re always trying to push the envelope a little bit,” he says. “The [shirts] are in bad taste, but we’re free to make them.”
Though a firm believer in the freedom of expression, there are some things Ferguson won’t condone. He refuses to give any tattoos with racist or pride themes. “We won’t do ‘pride’ tattoos. White pride, black pride, brown pride; we won’t do them. I love money, but I’ll turn down those [clients’] money, no problem.”
Ferguson thinks that this policy, as well as his outspoken nature, makes a positive difference in some people. “I had this guy come in . . . and say he wanted dead ‘niggers’ hanging from trees tattooed on him. I said, ‘Fuck you, my wife’s black, and I’m Jewish, now take your money and get out.’ A couple minutes later he pulls up again, and explains that his best friend was a black guy. Then the black guy shot his other best friend. I told him I didn’t even care anymore, but he felt this need to explain. I told him his friend isn’t dead because he was hanging out with a black guy, he was dead because he was hanging out with the kind of people that do stuff like that.” (Peter Surowski)
1st Amendment Tattoo, 27911 Jefferson Ave. Suite 106, Temecula, (951) 587-6990; www.1stamendmenttattoo.com.