Exercises In Bad Policy, School Shootings And Oil Spills Edition

by evanmcmurry

In 1990, in response to the Exxon Valdez spill, Congress burped the following:

The legislation included a clause that prohibits any vessel that, after March 22, 1989, has caused an oil spill of more than 1 million US gallons (3,800 m3) in any marine area, from operating in Prince William Sound.

In other words, Congress passed a bill prohibiting that exact event from occurring again—not, mind you, the wider causes of oil spills themselves. I call this as “Exxon Valdez logic”: rather than addressing the root causes of an event you wish to prevent, you merely pass a bill prohibiting the event’s particular circumstances. It’s like wanting to avoid getting struck by lighting twice by still going out in lightning storms but changing trees.

Here we come to Rick Snyder, who’s a very confused man these days, what with the passing of bills he finds divisive and all. Snyder vetoed a gun bill Tuesday that would have allowed open carry in schools. You see Snyder’s problem: we just had a shooting IN A SCHOOL. So Snyder now thinks schools should have the right to be gun free if they want, while the rest of us, presumably, remain target practice. This is classic Exxon Valdez logic: rather than address any of the underlying causes of mass shootings or gun culture, we merely pass a law prohibiting (or in this case veto a bill allowing) the particular circumstances of the event. Rick Snyder just changed trees.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy Snyder vetoed the bill, though if I were a Michiganderian I would be very concerned about what exactly causes Snyder to sign or veto a bill, as he seems to be without a rudder these days.

But beneath “Exxon Valdez logic” is the tacit concession that laws are in fact effective means of preventing tragedies. The logic behind stopping future tankers from spilling oil in Prince William Sound revealed in its particulars a relationship between legislation and environmental protection that anti-environmental legislators would never have agreed with had it been stated generally; after all, if passing a law will protect Prince William Sound, why should we not pass them for every coastline? So too does Snyder’s veto expose a relationship between gun restrictions and safety, whether it wants to or not: if children can be protected by gun laws without gun owners’ rights being unnecessarily trampled, why not the rest of us?

P.S.: Those of you concerned that this will stop shootings in Michigan can rest easy:

In a statement following the veto, [bill sponsor] Green said he was “deeply disappointed” in Snyder’s decision. “The message being sent to law-abiding folks with a license now is that if you wish to protect yourselves and your families from tragedy in these areas, you’ll have to carry openly without additional training,” he said.

A Ven diagram showing the relationship between the “criminals will get guns anyway” argument and the “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will carry guns” bumper sticker would just be a bullet hole.