October 30th, 2014

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Washington Initiative Measure No. 594

Initiative 594 would apply currently used criminal and background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

Gun Show
Gun Show photo by Michael Glasgow (CC By)

While I tend to be a bleeding heart liberal, I’m generally less supportive of gun control measures than a lot of other folks. There’s essentially two things I want to see changed about guns in the United States. The first is that stupid people should not possess or own guns. Who should decide what and who is stupid? Me. Of course, that’s not going to happen. But that’s my ideal.

The second is I’d really like to see a change in culture away from a hard-core attachment to guns. That’s not a law thing; that’s a culture thing. Guns aren’t needed and aren’t useful in 99.9% of the cases people think they are. For example, open carry. To give an analogy, I think flip flops should not be worn except at the beach, pool, or locker room and yet people wear them everywhere. I do not, and would not, support any banning of flip flops. But that doesn’t mean I think people should wear them. Please, stop wearing flip flops. Similarly, leave your gun at home. I don’t think open carry should be encouraged, but I think it should be generally lawful.

So that brings me to I-594. I-594 is not a litmus test for me. I think people can vote in good conscious for this measure without earning my ire. There are two questions that determine my answer to this initiative. The first is, will this do any good? The second is, is it worth the loss of freedom to transfer or sell a gun without a check?

I’m going to delve into the second question first. The answer is, I don’t think so. The burden on a person selling a gun is not substantial. TA quick search says the cost for this is generally less than $100 currently. The wait will be between 0 and 10 days, depending on the results. Generally the check happens instantly if a person doesn’t have issues that need to be dealt with. After 10 days, the sale/transfer can go through even if the background check hasn’t come back.

For the sellers, the burden is the cost. If the cost to purchase a gun goes up, people will buy fewer guns. Licensed gun dealers already factor this in, and they are doing just fine. Unlicensed gun dealers are basically free riding. Truly private sales/transfers between known people will be more inconvenient. I don’t see much more burden for doing this than registering a car though, and that is a pain in the ass, but it’s something we live with and accept. For purchasers, guns will be more expensive and there will be less reason to purchase privately and more reason to just use a licensed gun dealer in the first place. The only real burden is that people who are ineligible to purchase a gun will not have as large of a loophole to get one.

So, the first question: will this do any good? That’s much harder to answer. Few jurisdictions have had background check measures for long enough to have good data. And any changes aren’t going to be easy to measure given that people can and do work around them. If effective, background checks will be more effective when people can’t go to the next state over to purchase a gun without a check. Residents of Spokane can easily evade this because they are 30 minutes away from Idaho which doesn’t have background checks. All this makes it hard to know.

Additionally, if there’s any effect, it’s hard to see it because so many other things affect gun violence. Something might reduce gun violence by 5% but the economy goes south so crime in general goes up by 10%, which obscures the effect of the first. You can’t just look at the fact that gun violence in Colorado went up after they passed background checks in 1999. There are so many causes that extracting that information requires university-level studies.

The pro I-594 web site gives out some statistics, such as 39% fewer law enforcement officers murdered with a handgun in states with background check laws. The web site does not give the source for that. It also doesn’t say fewer than what, what the time frame is, how this was measured, what the confidence is, etc. The Officer Down Memorial page gives the stat that 39 police officers have died in 2014 due to gunfire. That tells me any measurement of law enforcement deaths in background check states is going to have a low sample size. Other measurements might not have that issue, but it’s really hard to tell given what the pro I-594 group posts.

I looked on JSTOR to see if I could find anything. Unfortunately, the only study I could find using background check as the key term wasn’t looking at background check efficiency. It looked used measures of background checks as a proxy for determining gun ownership and effects of that on suicide rates.

At the risk of falling into the trap of something must be done. this is something. therefore this must be done. I’m planning on voting for the measure. My gut feeling is that it will help reduce incidence of bad people having guns, but only slightly, given that people can work around it. I don’t have anything except gut feeling at this point, because actual numbers are so hard to come by. Sorry, pro-gun people, but keeping the government from funding these studies means I have to go with my gut. I hope a local university will actually study the effect and we can revisit the policy in 5 or 10 years. If it’s not working at that point, I’ll support dumping the law.

The argument that it’s a burden or infringing on rights doesn’t hold water with me. California has done this for decades and it’s not a gun free zone.

Originally published at King Rat. You can comment here or there.

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Washington Advisory Votes

Due to the remnants of a Tim Eyman initiative, we have advisory votes on anything that can be construed as a tax increase that’s passed by the legislature. There are only two such this year.

Advisory Vote No. 8

Marijuana crop, better known as help over here.
Photo by Stephen McGrath (CC By-Nc-Nd)

After we legalized marijuana two years ago, marijuana growers qualified for standard preferences for agriculture. The legislature eliminated that preference for them, costing about $25 million a year. I am relishing the thought of conservatives having to vote for a tax increase or for marijuana. Since our state is undertaxed, there’s no way I’m voting against what’s essentially a sin tax. That was part of the argument for the marijuana legalization initiative. Legalize it and tax it. So here we are. I’m voting maintained.

Advisory Vote No. 9

The legislature added $1.3 million in excise taxes on leasehold interests in tribal properties. I have no idea what exactly that is, but this is exactly the sort of thing we elect the legislature for. Absent a compelling reason against it, I’m voting maintained.

Originally published at King Rat. You can comment here or there.

Editorial

Seattle Propositions 1A and 1B – Early Childhood Education

The history of this one is a little convoluted. Labor unions ran an initiative to do a number of things regarding childcare, chief among them raise the childcare worker minimum wage to $15 per hour and require training and certification. They got enough signatures. The city council worked on a universal preschool pilot program. The propositions aren’t exactly one or the other like initiatives 591 and 594 are, but they both concern how to help preschool age children. So the city made it an either-or proposition.

My assumptive goal is to provide children with the resources to be functioning members of society.

So, if either of these measure does that, I’m going to vote yes on part 1. So on to checking both proposals:

Preschool Colors
Photo by Barnaby Wasson (CC By-Nc-Sa)

Proposition 1A

1A does a few things:

  • It sets the minimum wage for child care workers at $15 per hour with a phase-in of three years. The city council passed a $15 minimum wage that can phase in for up to 7 years. I see no reason to make that more complicated. It was a hard negotiated compromise, and I opposed businesses messing with it and I oppose labor messing with it.
  • 1A mandates that the city adopt goals, timelines and milestones to institute a policy that no family pay more than 10% of their income for early education and child care. While that’s a laudable goal, I think a hard limit of 10% is misguided as it doesn’t factor in number of children, their needs, or their families’ circumstances. I think a sliding scale based on family income and adjusted for other factors is a better target. That’s what 1B does.
  • 1A states that violent felons cannot provide child care in a licensed or unlicensed facility. This is perfectly reasonable, though I’d be surprised if the state doesn’t already prohibit violent felons from working in child care facilities.
  • 1A requires the city hire a Provider Organization to facilitate communication between childcare workers and the city. As far as I can tell from the requirements in the initiative, that organization would need to be one of the unions that is sponsoring the measure. I’m all for unionization, but this seems a bit like making the city talk to the union and pay for the privilege.
  • 1A would establish a training institute to be run by the Provider Organization from the last bullet point that would train and certify all childcare workers. Requiring training and licensing seems fine with me, but requiring the program to be run by a union seems a big loss of independence. I’d rather it be run by another organization, or the city itself.
  • 1A creates a Workforce Board to oversee the measure, including the training institute and standards. Half the board is nominated by the mayor, half by the Provider Organization. That seems like too large amount of influence to give to a union.
  • 1A creates a fund to assist small child care providers to meet city standards. That seems like a great idea.

One thing not listed in this is where the funding for it comes from. That isn’t a definitive reason to vote against it in my view, but it does mean I’m gonna look hard at it. The city would have one more priority to work into an existing budget and it’s not like we have a lot of extra money floating around. I’d prefer if we had an explicit ordered priority for our budget so new things like this could be slotted in at some spot in the priority. We don’t, and so the city is going to have to do it, and going to have to cut something or raise taxes for it (and we don’t have much room to raise with current legislative limits). We could raise property taxes similarly to how 1B does it, but will require another vote. I’d much rather it be included in this vote.

All in all, I’m leaning against this, primarily for the reason that it puts too much control into the hands of the industry to regulate and manage itself on the city’s dime. It seems like a way to restrain trade rather than improve education and child care.

Proposition 1B

Proposition 1B creates a four year pilot early learning (i.e., preschool) program with the goal of making it permanent and covering all preschool age children in the city. It will have free or sliding scale tuition based on income. The oversight board includes 12 members of the Families and Education Oversight Committee, which is (I believe) an existing committee that oversees a previous levy. 4 additional members would be part of the oversight board, and they would be Seattle residents with interest and experience with the growth and development of children. Only one of them can be from an organization that receives funding through the measure.

The proposition enacts a property tax that raises $14 million to fund the pilot program. The city won’t need to prioritize other programs out of the budget.

Proposition 1B seems to be a good faith attempt to provide education to young children, which is my goal, rather than provide a large amount of control to a union. I’m all for unions, and even giving them seats at the table. But they should not be in charge, as their interests are with their members, not with children. I don’t think they are opposed to children’s interests, but they aren’t synonymous.

Upshot is, I’ll be voting yes for part 1 of proposition 1, and for 1B for part 2.

Originally published at King Rat. You can comment here or there.

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Seattle Citizen Petition No. 1 – Again With The Monorail

Citizen Petition No. 1 establishes a new city transportation authority to study another monorail proposal.

Disney Monorail Lime at MK Station
Photo by Joe Penniston (CC By-Nc-Nd)

I was all in favor of the previous monorail proposal that got started and then later shot down at the polls due to a concern over how much it would cost. I am not in favor of this. Here are my reasons.

  • We had a shot at a monorail, and this proposal doesn’t bring a new idea to the table. It focuses on West Seattle to Ballard, which is already being studied by Sound Transit, and it doesn’t include other possible corridors.
  • Sound Transit Light Rail is up and running, soI’d rather we focus on expanding light rail to new neighborhoods. Sound Transit itself is an organization with a track record of completing new segments early and under budget, though with a long time frame and large budget.
  • The proposition is the brainchild of Elizabeth Campbell, who has a history of half-baked activism. The organization that put this on the ballot couldn’t get it’s ballot statement submitted on time. Putting them in charge of a new transportation authority is a recipe for failure.
  • The folks at Seattle Transit Blog are public transportation wonks, and Seattle Transit Blog opposes the monorail measure. These are the most extreme pro-transit people with a platform in Seattle, with knowledge to back that up, not some conservative road-happy developers.

Originally published at King Rat. You can comment here or there.