Los Angeles may demand ID for buying spray paint, other art supplies

Liz Ohanesian of the LA Weekly says,

Dennis Zine of LA City Council has proposed checking IDs, and keeping tabs on the info, for purchases of various art supplies that are considered "graffiti paraphernalia." He just introduced the motion, but, if it were to pass, it would affect many creative people in LA.
Full story here.



  1. And eventually, some ethically corrupt megalomaniac will propose some sort of legislation that will allow for real life DRM on anything at all.

  2. Dammit, it’s bad enough that I already have to spend 15 minutes tracking down a clerk to unlock the paint cage. I hope this doesn’t catch on.

    It won’t do a thing to curb graffiti anyway. As a group, street artists are some of the most innovative creatives out there. They’ll figure something out.

  3. Where I live they already check ID to make sure you are over 18. Is this saying they will keep track of your info like when buying pseudoephedrine?

  4. It’s worked really well for Portland. Not. It’s really easy just to go to one of the suburbs to buy it without showing ID.

  5. i think i could be more sympathetic here if it weren’t for the massive amount empty spray paint cans that float up on the beach and get dumped around every little spot in la county.  I think graffiti is beautiful but i say do whatever it takes to deter those littering little bastards.

  6. The legislation might curb graffiti to some extent, but i doubt it’d really stop it. It’d just force graffiti artists to change their approach and materials even. What this would do is hugely inconvenience legit people who want spray paints, even if they have nothing illegal to hide.

    1. Not only that of course, but also drive the business for such things elsewhere. And by the time the law catches up to those places it’ll be too late; there will be established channels set up.

  7. This is, of course, “look tough” dick-waving policy that won’t be effected. It is telling that he thinks that it is an acceptable thing to _propose_, though.

  8. On principle (and in practicality), trying to affect behavior by making something harder to get doesn’t really work… only creates black markets.

  9. In LA you haven’t been able to buy spray paint if you’re a minor for a while. Over the past few years I’ve done some personal projects that required spray paint, and I’ve had to bring my dad along to buy it for me. 

  10. Why
    would anybody need blue spray paint in today’s society? You can have red spray paint . If we make blue spray paint harder to get, the number of crimes involving blue spray paint will go down.

  11. I point to the ease of acquiring spray paint. I point to the spike in casualties in Afghanistan. That is all.

  12. This strikes me as a hilariously unenforceable approach to curbing graffiti.

    Some kid gets hold of a Krylon rattlecan (swiped from his uncle’s garage, bought for him by an older guy, whatever), then tags the side of a 7-Eleven somewhere.  He temporarily eludes capture, but then Johnny Law arrives, and sends its Graffiti Abatement Forensic Squad in.  They analyze the tag, and conclude “It’s Flat Black Krylon, sarge!  Probably applied last night, and manufactured less than nine months ago!”

    “Awright, we got ‘im.  Hit the Tru-Values, O’Reilly’s, AutoZones and Home Depots.  Check the database of everyone who purchased Krylon Flat Black in the last, say, eight months.  Then crosscheck the results for friends, cousins, nephews, sons, or sneaky lightfingered neighbors… anyone who might be a potential tagger!  We’ll have this guy before sundown!”

  13. They’ve been IDing for spray paint and paint markers here for decades in Boston.

    Besides, back in the day we stole the supplies anyways so that bypasses the cashier check.

  14. I’m not sold on the artistic merits of tagging but I do love graffiti so I’m torn. On one hand I say if it keeps just 30% of the idiots who might wish to roam the streets at night looking to deface property from doing so then it’s a good thing. If it keeps one beautifully rendered piece of wall art from being created by someone with few other artistic opportunities then it’s a shame.

    I’m not sure what they’ll do if they catch someone with one of these outlawed cans though. Fine the store?

    When Krylon is outlawed only outlaws will have Krylon, or more likely Rust-Oleum or some crackle faux finishy thing.

  15. In Hawaii, it’s been years since any minor has been able to buy paints or markers. I remember the graffiti soon after the rule change being created by White-Out.

  16. Do these artistic people have any trouble providing an ID when they buy beer?  How much does that slow down the beer purchase?  Any artists have to give up drinking beer because of the ID requirement?

    1. You’re missing the point.  They’re going to track your purchases.  So if you just used 20 cans of Krylon to finish up your art car, it’s going to raise flags on some official’s computer somewhere, and you might be pestered by men in blue.  This is wandering in the direction of 4th Amendment territory.

    2. Do these artistic people have any trouble providing an ID when they buy beer?

      I’m not artistic, but yeah, that _would_ slow me down since my IDs are buried deep in my wallet (I only need them occasionally, like every couple of months) which in turn is buried deep in my back pocket.

      But then again, I live in a place where showing an ID when buying _anything_ seems like a ridiculous concept.

      We call it “freedom.”

      1. I live there too! 

        Tobacco, Beer, Spray Paint, Porn… we trade money in our wallets for these goods pretty well unabated! 

        The ones who need to put freedom in quotes is the USA, not us.

  17. This is a strain for me since I periodically have to Rustoleum the iron fence around my house so the Nortenos can’t tag my aluminum yard sculptures.

  18. It didn’t do anything to stop tagging here….. but it did mean I had to go along with my brother so that he could get paint for a school project, and it took me forever to get checked out when I needed some for uni. It’s just a nuisance.

    Oh, and for the record plenty of taggers use those chunky permanent markers they use in primary schools. ID  checks on early childhood teachers?

  19. Of course, our Ultimate Destination is a world in which every person’s every move, every purchase, every action, and (as much as is technologically feasible) every thought is recorded and catalogued for future potential review by law enforcement.  That’s what They would like, since it would certainly make Their jobs a hell of a lot easier, though the size and unwieldiness of the actual database involved boggles the mind.  It would be like having a virtual scale model of the entirety of recent human experience in indexable form.

    I wonder if it has already become an actionable offense to believe that people have a basic human right to break the law, as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequences (i.e., pay the fine, do the time, or spend the rest of one’s life on the lam… or possibly get away scot-free if one can manage it).

    Well, it’s sure to get you on some list or other.  (By the way, hello Johnny Law.  No, I don’t actually hold that belief.  As far as you know.)

  20. well well… isn’t “art” some kind of overstatement for a fricking spray can? last time I bought one was to paint some RC model sailplane (just to not lose it on the grass once it falls)
    come on… I’m not an artist (at least not a plastic one, I’m also a jazz musician). i get tired of these kind of simplifications…

  21. as in kepin tabs of whos buying what? as of right now you have to show I.D anyways in los angeles.
    not that it will help anything really. 
    i live in downtown los angeles and was stopped at gunpoint by sherrifs for “looking like” the guy who was painting cats around los angeles.  or the other time where i was asked if i “was legal” for walking around taking photos in my neighborhood (with a whole tripod set up, mind you) for looking suspicious. 
    the best is the “what do they call you?” question. feels like im in a bad 80s gang movie, except I can actually wind up in a bunch of legal matters. 

  22. Amazon FTW: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?field-keywords=spray+paint&url=search-alias%3Daps&x=0&y=0

    Amazon gets the sale, the state gets shafted for the sales tax, the taggers qualify for Free Super Saver Shippin.

    1. I’m not sure why, but buying rattlecan paint online and having it shipped to my home seems passing weird.

  23. Just in case people weren’t aware, not all grafitti is “art”.

    They should put a few nano-tags into the paintcans which are recorded at time-of-purchase, track the offenders down. #nevergonnaheppen

    1. Graffiti is graffiti. Vandalism is vandalism. Equating the two is almost as lazy as putting art in quotation marks just to show how dismissive you are.

  24. I’d rather see people spray painting private property without the owner’s permission get 100 hours of community service work cleaning up unwanted graffiti or be required to wear a cast on their spray paint hand for six months. I’ve seen some good spray paint art done with the building owner’s permission but if it is done on someone’s property against their will it is vandalism.

  25. From the headline, I thought this was going to be about huffing. The kids up here on the North Coast mostly use spray paint to get high. Hell, I wish they’d use it for art.

  26. It’s R18 go buy spray paint in New Zealand. Suits me, but then again I don’t buy spray paint and I’m over 18.

  27. they’ve already made it so i have to pay 2x as much to buy a gallon of turpenoid in 4 containers rather than the one container i used to buy… since one gallon in one container is somehow worse than 1 gallon in 4 containers…

    1. that makes sense on some level. It’s a messy spill. To accidentally spill a whole gallon you’d have to make the same mistake 4 times. If you run a sotore that sells hazmat, your insurance company wants you to have reasonable amounts, stored well, or they will stick it to you in your premium.

      Also, if you only need a pint and then have to get rid of the rest, this saves the other 7 from being disposed of. I agree you ought to be able to get it in gallons, but the inconvenience and wasteful packaging probably do serve a purpose. Just not your purpose.

  28. I’m all for it. I’ve been driving retired metermaid cars for about 10 years and get tagged at least once a month. The little bastards know I’m not a metermaid but they still do it. And to make matters worse the truck I use for my business is a big white stepvan (former Hostess Cupcake truck), which is apparently irresistable to the little shits. And if that’s not bad enough I live in the hood, and my building gets tagged all the time, and sometimes I’m the one who has to clean it. So I say try it. Try anything. I’d even consider making it mandatory for anyone under the age of 18 found carrying a napsack to be banned from the city. Or tarred and feathered, whatever that means.

    But seriously, I travel a lot for work and some cities, like Baltimore, have so little graffiti its bizarre. And then I come home to San Francisco and its everywhere. I love me some murals, but fuck can we please try getting creative about curtailing tagging. I don’t even care if its a bad idea, I just want to hear possibilities discussed.

    And don’t even get me started on the new “etching” they’re doing, where they squirt acid on big shop windows…

    And yeah I know its easy to be really open minded about graffiti when you don’t actually have to clean any of it. But once you start having your stuff tagged, and you have to use that nasty toxic Jasco graffiti remover first thing in the morning right after a shower, your perspective changes really really quickly.

    1. I must presume you’re getting these “retired metermaid cars” for free or near-free? If not, why have you acquired multiple such vehicles instead of similar used vehicles despite their attractiveness to taggers?

      I mean I don’t mean to blame the victim here, but considering how much of a problem you seem to be having with taggers it does seem like there are some preventative measures you could take – don’t buy ex-metermaid cars, paint the van or put graphics or something on it to make it less attractive a canvas, put up a fence or some other security measures for your building…


      1. As far as my truck, I paid $125/month for secured parking and the little shits still hop the fence and thoroughly bomb it. I’d pay the extortion fee and have someone mural it but I do a lot of events at fancy hotels and I’d never be hired again.

        As far as my building getting tagged, I can’t put a fence around it, so I suppose I should move?

        I don’t mean to be defensive, its just a sore subject with me.

        But as far as Cushmans, other than the graffiti issue they’re about the most practical car on the planet, if you don’t need to drive on highways. They’re cheap, reliable, I can park anywhere, and I get there while listening to a slammin stereo, and keeping warm and dry. And with a boatload of style if I do say so myself.

        Couple of pics of my Cushmans over the years if you’re curious.

      2. If saying “you shouldn’t have things which attract vandalism” isn’t blaming the victim, then what in hellis it?

        1. it’s saying “are you sure you don;t enjoy being a victim?”

          The tip off was when the guy whose defense you’re leaping to said “I’d even consider making it mandatory for anyone under the age of 18 found carrying a napsack to be banned from the city.”

          1. Ha, you appear to be saying I enjoy cleaning graffiti off my stuff.  Awesome. I love you internet, the stupidity of some of your denizens knows no bounds.

      3. “I mean I don’t mean to blame the victim here”   Well then you have a funny way of showing that b/c that’s exactly what you’re doing.  Why should he have to do anything?  Do you want to buy those things for him?  If not…well… you get the idea.”put up a fence or some other security measures for your building…”So how much can I put you down for?

    2. I have a solution for you: get a vehicle wrap (printed for your business or just plain for cheapness) which can just be pulled off or covered up. You could even grease the surface with Vaseline. 

    1. Australia also forbids violent video games, even though the continent itself is actually a gigantic venomous spidergator.

  29. Paint is not the problem. You might as well pass laws saying teenagers can’t have hair over their eyes.
    The problem I have with Graffiti is that only a tiny fraction of graffiti is art IMO. And the only reason it is considered art is because some bleeding hearts are doing their best to give the poor little taggers a ‘legitimate outlet’ for their scratchings. 
    No big solutions here but I think we are misleading these kids if we teach that that beautiful tags are art and should be cherished. To them, all their scratchings are beautiful. To me, they are a cancerous mole on society. If you want to be an artist, buy a canvas and stop scribbling on other peoples property. Stamp out tagging – stop pretending that Graffiti is Art. At least then we can unambiguously classify this behavior as vandalism.

    As for Emo Fringes…

  30. Aside from the civil liberties issues and the typical internet comments of “oh i love graffiti ART but hate those ugly tags” (PRO TIP – yeah that’s the same guys doing those.) the main flaw in this stupid plan is…. RACKING.

  31. You shouldn’t have to show ID to buy something like paint, right?  What about a bow and arrow? Or a 12 gauge?  Or how about some explosives?  Maybe a big tank of freon?  Or some bolt cutters with four foot handles?  Biological contagions?  A drum of powdered ephedrine?  Hell, say junior wants to make a DIY cloud chamber and needs some plutonium or spent fuel rods.  What then?  We wouldn’t want to stifle anybodies creativity now would we?

    I’ve said before that I’m in favor of civil liberties, and I still am.  But making something that has a serious potential for depriving someone else of their rights, a little harder to get, isn’t the same got danged thing as making it illegal or completely unavailable.  Those other examples I cite are all in the same “often used for something illegal” category.  Spray paint in a big city falls into this category, and should require some level of documentation.  And at least some government agency isn’t secretly searching and tracking credit card data.

    Back when I was a kid in Atlanta in the 70s, we couldn’t buy solvent based model glue because it was in inhalant.  That was a good thing.  And have any of you opposed to this law ever had property that you personally paid for and own, vandalized with spray paint? 

  32. Oh, and a useful tip for Los Angeles residents who don’t like tagging:  Go to http://anti-graffiti.lacity.org/ and fill out the form to request graffiti removal.

    I walk around my neighborhood a lot, and whenever I see a tag, I report it.  IME, response is quick – usually the very next day.

    When taggers discover that their tags only last a day or two, they tend to take their tagging somewhere else.

    The city contracts with neighborhood organizations who hire ‘at-risk youth’ to paint over or sandblast graffiti on request.  As with many city services, the city has the resources to deal with reported problems – what it doesn’t have is enough manpower to constantly scout the area looking for problems.  So the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    Same is true of burnt-out streelights, abandoned sofas, potholes, and so on. 

    (In theory at least, all those things can also be handled via the city’s 311 “One Call to City Hall” service.  But I haven’t used it myself, so I can’t vouch for it.)

  33. This remains a dumb proposal.  California already bans the sale of spray paint to minors (CA Penal Code 594.1), and yet the kids (if we assume most taggers are under 18) still get paint.  Recording the sales info won’t change a thing.  If a kid busts into my garage and steals my paint, I’m not liable for what he does with it.  As I mentioned above, “tracing” the paint back to its point of sale, if even theoretically possible, won’t feasibly bring you any closer to finding out who sprayed the paint after the fact.  If anything, I’m bugged more by the sheer uselessness of the proposal rather than by its invasiveness and potential unconstitutionality.

    Security cameras on or around vulnerable “canvases” like buildings and vehicles, and general watchfulness by the populace, will be more effective; stopping the crime itself in the act is what counts, not restricting access to the paint or markers utilized, which are used far more frequently for perfectly innocuous intended purposes.  This isn’t a deal like gun- or ammo-control, where some kind of argument might be made about how “if it saves even one life, it’s worth it blah blah blah.”

    The consequence of guns falling into the wrong hands is not equivalent to the consequence of paint falling into the wrong hands.  It seems to me that if people are able to care for and attend to their neighborhoods and properties, and if kids are given something more constructive (or at least more interesting) to do with their time than to paint glyphs all over town… hey, this might be another useful instance of some Public Spending on the municipal level!  Pay an extra couple of bucks in local taxes every year, and maybe the kids will have a community center, some athletic programs, some afterschool art and enrichment programs that might, if nothing else, smell better than a nostrilful of Krylon.

    Or sure, you could ID every hobbyist, artist, contractor, DIYer, hotrodder, and restorer when they buy supplies, and keep those records for a couple of years, and maybe your constituency might be fooled into thinking you’ve accomplished something even remotely useful.

    1. There have been two instances of tagging in my upper middle class neighborhood in the last few months.  One was a large retaining wall and other a utility box, both on a major thoroughfare.  Both tags had been removed within two days. 
      I don’t think much of my HOA or the ‘values’ it represents, as in property before people  (I’m talkin’ serious honey badgers), but I will say this – they are swift in countering any threat to their homes or neighborhood.  It is the one thing that will bring neighbors together, all antipathy toward each other forgotten. 
      AT&T’s desire to place a cell tower on an empty lot three houses down from ours, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the landowner, was collectively blocked at a meeting with the promise to follow up with legal action if the lot owner and AT&T failed to get the message.
      The last of three destructive hail storms took a toll on homes here.  Almost immediately insurance appraisers showed up, and the streets have had service trucks lined up with roofers, painters, fencers, window replacers and landscapers ever since; the air ringing with the sound of hammers and small noisy motors all the live long day and into the evening.

      So I have to wonder how Dennis came to the idea that tagging the taggers and their supplies would prove more effective than employing the vested common interests of property owners…apart from being just another spineless weasel of a politician afraid to use the ‘T’ word.  Wait for it…



  34. the right to anonymous speech, established in Talley v California and McIntyre v Ohio, is under attack.  Two lower courts have ruled that Citizens United effectively overrules McIntyre. That’s the first circuit, in NOM vMcKee, and a West Virginia district court in WV Right to Life v Tenant. This is probably a mistake; the Supreme Court probably only intended to require identification disclaimers for speech by corporations, but it was a badly written decision that didn’t explain this well.

    If people show ID to vote, or fly, the government will see that it can get away with unwarranted searches, and start requiring ID to buy paint or ink or computers.

    Yes, I’ve had my house tagged. Advertizing is art. Is there a good how-to online for homebrewing spray paint?

  35. That actually has more to do with economics. IDs, while most people have one, generally cost money, thereby disenfranchising the very poor from voting (unfortunately they don’t vote very much as it is, but this would make that harder).

    I remember seeing an article, probably here, about the pseudophedrine ID thing backfiring and creating a black market. Don’t know if that would happen for spraypaint, but it’s interesting.

  36. Where do you vote? Every time I’ve voted I needed my ID or voter registration card

    What century do you live in? I vote in the comfort and convenience of my own home.

  37. I vote in California — specifically, I vote in Dennis Zine’s City Council district in L.A., and I’ve never had to provide an ID to vote.

  38. Wellll – thanks for the link. I guess now I see why one can vote from the comfort of their grave so easily in Chicago.

    Note – i have only voted in KS and MO – but needed ID. I worked a presidential election in MO. It was really great to see the process. If everyone did it the way we did, having missing/lost/fraudulent ballots would be hard to do.

    Hey – if I wanted to be cynical – I’d say that the reason you don’t need an ID to vote is that it doesn’t really count anyway. *badum ching*

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