House Speaker John Boehner dusted off a classic Republican argument on Tuesday, explaining that "we have enough regulations on the books." He was talking about the chemical leak in West Virginia that polluted much of the state's water supply, not guns, but that's the beauty of the argument: It's multi-purpose.
As of Tuesday, the area in red on the map at right (a bigger version of which is here) still doesn't have access to clean water following a leak from a tank owned by the appropriately-named Freedom Industries. (The company distributes chemicals used in coal mining — an industry that itself is blamed for polluting 20 percent of streams in the southern part of the state.) Some places in the state's capital of Charleston, many of them "large commercial users," according to CNN, were finally cleared to begin using water in their homes five days after the leak was discovered last Thursday.
As The Hill reports, the spill, which affected about 300,000 people, comes at a politically inconvenient time for House Republicans. Among their priorities to start the calendar year was an effort to curtail environmental regulations as part of the party's larger effort to roll back government oversight systems. In the wake of the West Virginia spill, and a train derailment in North Dakota and an administration proposal to revamp chemical safety rules following last year's West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion — the timing for that push isn't great.
Boehner was clear that his party would not, however, go any further. "We have enough regulations on the books," he said at a press conference on Tuesday as reported by Talking Points Memo. "What the administration ought to be doing is their jobs." Boehner was partly responding to the suggestion that more oversight might have helped either prevent the spill or lessened its effects, as West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said to CNN. (The last time that the Freedom Industries site was inspected was 1991.)
If it seems like a difficult argument to make — the regulations on the books were sufficient — you need only look at the parallel situation in which it's made. In the wake of mass shootings or calls for new regulations on owning firearms, Boehner's argument is a key part of the response. We don't need more gun laws say Chris Christie and Jesse Ventura and Paul Ryan. We need the government to enforce them. It's when the mentally ill or a criminal gets hold of a firearm that bad things happen. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
Extending the analogy: Chemical tanks don't pollute water, Freedom Industries does. Too bad they slipped through our robust regulatory net.