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Hat tip to Chad for pointing out HB1703, geared toward

Promoting firearm safety through an education program funded through fees on firearms and ammunition and creating a sales tax exemption on gun locks.

Who is opposed to education using some minor fees?  Everybody is for education, right?  Let’s take a closer look.

The Justification (in the analysis of which I sound quite callous)

The bill cites the June 2008 Washington State Injury and Violence Prevention Guide issued by the Department of Health for the first bullet:

(a) Firearm injuries were the fourth leading cause of injury death; including forty-nine percent of all suicides and fifty-five percent of all homicides;

Suicide rates are largely irrelevant as they are independent of firearms usage rates; if you take away guns, people who are going to kill themselves use something else.  Suicide is a serious issue; it is not primarily a firearms issue.  [Worth noting that DoH's latest study cites a 1996 study in Australia to suggest that firearms availability may increase completed suicides. Also worth noting the much higher suicide rates in some nations (e.g. Japan) which have effectively no private firearm ownership.]

The “4th place” finish includes homicides and all intentional and unintentional usage.  Only 9 accidental deaths were noted for the cited year (2006).  How many of the 191 homicides would have been prevented by firearm safety education?  I’m guessing an upper limit of around zero.

(b) About ninety percent of fatal firearm incidents involving children occur in the home;

(c) A study of children from birth to age fourteen showed that forty percent of firearm incidents happen in the same room where the firearm is stored;

OK, call me callous, but where should these tragedies occur? I guess they’re trying to prove correlation of improper storage with death of children. Who did the study, and what constitutes a “firearm incident”?  These figures did not come from the 2008 study.

(d) The presence of a household firearm is also linked with an increased risk of adults and adolescents using a firearm to attempt suicide;

This is roughly akin to correlating traffic violations with owning an automobile. Again, this doesn’t really say that having a firearm in the home increases the risk of attempting suicide, just the risk of using a firearm to do so.

(e) Having a firearm in the house also puts an abused woman at greater risk of being killed; and

I’d really like to see a citation for this. Are we controlling for whose firearm it is, or just jumping straight to the logical conclusion firearm = death?

(f) A 2007 nationwide-study of firearm ownership and storage patterns among families with children revealed that, overall, few families with children reported safe firearm storage.

Again: who did the study?  How did they define “safe,” anyway?

I’m really not this callous, but I’m very leery when it looks suspiciously like they cherry-picked some scary-sounding numbers.  Look at the study and decide for yourself. Any accidental death is a tragedy, but I am not at all convinced that the problem is so severe as to justify this approach.

Speaking of cherry-picking

Here’s a million dollar question: why didn’t they cite the January 2013 study? Is it perhaps because it barely mentions firearms?

The Intent

In an effort to reduce the number of firearms-related deaths and injuries, the legislature intends to:

(a) Institute a statewide educational program aimed at educating firearm owners, prospective firearm owners, and those who live and work where firearms are present, about firearm safety;

(b) Fund such a program with fees on the retail sales of firearms and ammunition; and

(c) Promote the safe storage of firearms through a tax exemption on the purchase of gun locks

Given the questionable magnitude of the problem, I’m not at all certain that a statewide educational program is a necessary use of our funds.  But what kind of fees are we talking about?

The execution

$25 per firearm at retail sale, or $15 per firearm if you buy a trigger lock with it.  (What trigger lock manufacturer has lobbyists in Olympia?) $25 per firearm?  Seriously?  For a lot of cheaper guns, like my Mosin-Nagant bolt action, that’s a 40% surcharge on the weapon itself.

And how many trigger locks can I possibly need?  Every gun I’ve ever purchased has come with one, and I don’t use them.  I don’t trust them, and if I need my gun, I need my gun now.  They can be defeated with very little effort by someone with practice (query the YouTube and be amazed) and don’t do anything at all to prevent theft, but they can easily become a bar to quick access to your own weapon when you need it.  Trigger locks are a lousy idea in general.

In addition to the firearm retail sales (including, I presume, used weapon sales at stores), there will be a 1-cent-per-round tax on ammunition.  Only ammunition in this case is defined as “cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm.”

Aside from me paying an extra 50 cents for a box of 9mm (perhaps a 5% tax), this will significantly cut into the cost-benefit ratio for people who reload their brass (usually done to save money or get more reliable accuracy), since they’ll get taxed effectively 4 cents per round: once each for the case, the primer, the bullet, and (presumably) one cent for the powder.

The moneys collected would go into a special non-raidable account to be used exclusively for studying and implementing firearms safety education programs.  I don’t have a great deal of problem with any of that; I particularly like that it is designed such that the funds cannot be used for any other purpose.  I’m more than a little dubious about the expected cost, if it’s going to be a $25 hit every time I buy a new gun.

[Edit: minor correction ahead; I was not, in fact, reading it correctly.]

The financial note attached to this bill, if I’m reading it correctly, assumes the hiring of five new Department of Health employees to run this thing, although weirdly, only 2.2 FTE.  How do you hire half an epidemiologist?  (All but the admin assistant will make more than I do. Maybe I need to get out of the warfighting industry.)  Read the whole thing to see how they expect to spend our money: largely through contracting out new education programs that will mostly be recreating the wheel.

Concluding thoughts

I am not a fan.  While I think self-funding safety programs are a laudable goal (if we can’t pay for it, let’s not do it), this strikes me as a solution in search of a problem–or more accurately, a punitive measure in search of a justification.  You tax things you want to discourage.  Why are we trying to put a damper on one of the few sectors of the economy that is booming?

This will discourage people from buying firearms from retailers in this state (possibly the real intent), but those buyers (like me) will go elsewhere.  If it’s a choice between paying $25 to my state’s department of revenue, or paying $25 to an FFL to receive a gun purchased cheaper from out of state, that’s a no-brainer.  If they add enough fees on, I may become desperate enough to buy from the PX.

Using the 2008 study instead of the state’s own 2013 study to justify this raises all sorts of red flags for me; it looks like cherry-picking of data.  I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the research into firearms safety methods that this fee is purported to fund has already been done by other institutions; neither firearms accidents nor safety training are new concepts.  Let’s see what people are doing, let’s see what it might cost to implement here, and then let’s set some reasonable fees.

I would rather (voluntarily) give ten bucks to the NRA safety programs every time I buy a gun than give it to the DoH; how about we make that part of the state firearms transfer form?