Archive for the 'Age of Majority' Category

Lightner Controversy

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

On a Fox News panel on Monday April 7, Candy Lightner, Founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, shared her belief that young adults “don’t think for themselves.” Lightner used this as a justification for why the drinking age should not coincide with the age of enlistment. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have heard members of the MADD network stereotyping young adults as immature. The same argument has been put forth by several of Lightner’s colleagues, including a 19 year-old M.I.T student (who, interestingly, is considered mature enough to sit on the Board of a large national organization), as well as MADD representatives on local panels.

The moment, naturally, was captured by YouTube,  and we have provided a rough transcript below.

“…That’s exactly why the draft age is 18…because these kids are malleable. They’ll follow the leader. They don’t think for themselves. And they are the last ones that I want to say, here’s a gun and here’s a beer…they are not adults.”

Happy February 20th!

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Happy February 20th!  75 years ago today, Congress approved the 21st Amendment, kicking off the ratification process and bringing national prohibition to the point of no return.  Congress’ approval built upon the momentum generated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s landslide victory over Herbert Hoover — a victory considered by many to be a mandate for repeal. After February 20, repeal steamrolled through the states at a pace faster than anyone could have envisioned.

In many ways, Legal Age 21 can be considered a latter-day prohibition — denying legal alcohol purchase and consumption to a specific group of adults who are allowed all other rights of citizenship. Indeed, historical parallels abound. Today, the excessive, reckless use of alcohol has become the norm as law forces drinking underground and out of public settings. The criminalization of ordinary behavior continues to breed disrespect for law. The unenforcability of the law, compounded with increasingly commonplace consumption, have engendered creative lawbreaking.  Off-campus parties and beer pong constitute the modern subculture equivalent of speakeasies and homemade spirits, and clearly illustrate the failure of a law — albeit one with good intentions — to bring about desired cultural change.

 Just as Americans on February 20, 1933 had repeal within reach, so can we, in 2008, affect change. Start the debate in your community. Talk to your local officials. In the words of a prominent prohibition-era poster, “Their security demands you vote REPEAL.”


(Kyvig 2000)

Age of Majority: A writer speaks out

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Vote at 16, drink at 16? We will not comment on the former, and believe 18 works quite well for the latter, but were still intrigued by a recent piece on the age of majority in the New York Times. Read more here.

Moving Waters in South Carolina

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Legislators in South Carolina understand the conflicting messages being delivered to men and women of the military. These individuals are provided weapons and trusted to defend their country in the most dangerous of environments. However, upon returning home, they are stripped of their label of maturity, and are told they are not responsible enough to drink a beer or glass of wine. 

Rep. Fletcher Smith (D- Greenville) is on a mission to standardize these messages, in the hope of allowing young adult members of the armed services to legally consume alcohol. We commend Smith’s efforts in his state of South Carolina, and we encourage the blossoming of comparable movements around the country. Productive steps have also been taken in Kentucky, among other states. It is abundantly clear that Congress needs to lift the 10% highway funding penalty — so that forward-thinking states can freely engage in debate, and we can finally answer the perplexing question: Fight at 18…Drink at 21?

What about 19?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

What do we think of a 19 year-old drinking age? Many of you have asked us this question, particularly concerned that an 18-year-old drinking age would translate to the widespread transfer of alcohol to high school students. This question is reasonable, and our response is as follows:

The age of majority is 18. At 18, young adults can vote, enlist in the military, serve on a jury, smoke, marry, and enter binding contracts. In the court system, they can be legally held accountable for their actions as adults. The “Fight at 18, Drink at 21?” argument is simple and powerful because it reflects the societal reality of what it means to be an adult. Interestingly, Legal Age 21, by forcing the consumption of alcohol out of the open, has infantalized these “adults.”

 Then there arises the question of infantile behavior. Indeed, 95 percent of those who will be alcohol consumers in their lifetime drank alcohol before the age of 21. Drinking is a reality in the lives of young adults; however, given the restrictions of Legal Age 21, they lack an opportunity to learn about moderate and sensible drinking from adults they respect. The result, understandably, has been infantile behavior that, given the present law, is difficult to change.

We believe that a lower drinking age will breed a more responsible culture of alcohol consumption. This will not necessarily happen independently, but rather, through a combination of education and licensing. These programs are fundamental to our proposal, as they help not only introduce young adults to the rights and responsibilies of legal alcohol consumption, but also help provide incentives that will limit the types of behavior implicit in your question. The timing of the drinking license (delivered after high school graduation), compounded with a more socially acceptable legal drinking age, will confer privileges that we believe will limit the transfer of alcohol to high school students.

 That brings us to the fundamental question — what about 19? The fact is, though our proposals make clear the benefits of a uniform age of majority (in conjunction with educational programs), we believe that a lower drinking age — of whatever number — is more important.  Most important, however, is public debate.

Until the federal highway appropriation condition is lifted, no state can be expected to engage in an informed public dialogue about the most appropriate drinking age for its territory. We believe that 18 with education works, but 19 works too. While not as glamorous as lowering the drinking age, the necessary first-step is fighting to lift the 10% highway condition, so that proponents of both 18 and 19 can be heard.

 We encourage you to discuss the merits of both 18 and 19. This topic is gaining traction in South Dakota, where a young lawyer from Flandreau, N. Bob Pesall, is starting a movement to lower the drinking age to 19. His efforts overlap with those of South Dakota state senator, Bill Napoli, who appears to be aiming for 18. Which do you prefer? Make your voice heard.

An echo from the past

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

During the early 1980s, when state drinking ages were fluctuating wildly across the nation, Vermonters held firm with an 18 year-old drinking age until forced to raise it to 21 by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Then-governor Richard Snelling vetoed the state legislature’s attempts to raise the drinking age to 19 twice, once in 1982 and once in 1983. Snellings primary opposition to raising the drinking age arose from the belief that it is contradictory to allow 18 year-olds to vote and enlist in the army but not to consume alcohol. He also believed that the raising the drinking age would do little to change the complex issue of alcohol abuse, especially among young people“Until such time as adults cease believing that being drunk is funny or socially acceptable, there is no reason to expect any significant change in the behavior of our young people.” (As quoted in “Vermont continues to resist rise in drinking age,” UPI Wire, 20 April 1983)

Even more interesting than Snelling’s measured opposition to a higher drinking age were his ideas for addressing the problem of drunk driving and alcohol abuse among young people. In 1982, he proposed a required alcohol education course for all 18-20 year olds and a special ID card that would allow them to purchase alcohol after completing the course.

“‘There is no single stroke-of-the pen solution to the very complex social problem of teen-age drinking,’ Snelling said

‘Educational programs have been effective and I believe it is perfectly proper and prudent that young adults ages 18-20 who want to drink in Vermont be exposed to the laws of Vermont regarding alcohol and the tragic costs of its abuse.’

A Snelling aide said he was unaware of a similar program anywhere else in the country.

In April, Snelling vetoed a bill raising Vermont’s legal drinking age from 18 to 19, saying that if 18-year-olds are old enough to vote, they are old enough to drink.

Since then, however, his Democratic opponent in the 1982 gubneratorial race, Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin, has made a campaign issue out of the question.

Timothy Hayward, executive assistant to the governor, said Snelling’s proposal would require all 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, even those from out of state, to have a special ID card showing they’ve attended the class in order to buy alcohol in Vermont.” (“Governor would require drinking course for youths,” Associated Press, 10 June 1982)

The ideas behind Snelling’s 25 year-old remarks are echoed clearly in Choose Responsibility’s own proposal to lower the drinking age to 18 through a system of education and licensing. Perhaps Vermont’s long time governor was onto a winning idea that just needed a few decades to percolate!


It’s More Than Just Dying For Your Country

Monday, April 30th, 2007

The right to fight for your country, to enlist, serve, and potentially die, is an oft-cited justification for an 18 year-old drinking age. “If you are old enough to die for your country,” so the maxim goes, “then you are old enough to sit down and buy a beer.” It’s a powerful argument, and a common one at that. But it is only a part of something far greater that is often over-looked when used to rationalize an 18 year-old drinking age argument. There is great injustice in the fact that you can die for a country against your will (to be drafted) that doesn’t grant you with the fullest privileges of adulthood. But in some way I think it means more that you can voluntarily join the military and risk your life, yet still be denied a mug of beer.

It’s about justice. For better or worse, the United States has determined that at age 18 you become an adult. By the widest of definitions, this means that you are now legally responsible for your actions. You can buy and smoke cigarettes even though you know that, with time, they’ll probably give you lung cancer. You may even purchase property, strike binding legal contracts, or go into debt. But most importantly (for the sake of this argument), is the fact that, at 18, you can vote and hold office. 18 is the age of majority, the age at which one finally becomes part of the ruling faction, the democracy’s people. Sure, you can die for your country and not be allowed to buy a beer, and that is a travesty, but it is the over-arching disenfranchisement of responsibility for those who are in all respects legally responsible that is abhorrent.

Critics are quick to point out that 18 is not an Age of Majority, but one age amongst many that together mark the gradual path to adulthood. This argument notes that young adults cannot drink until 21, rent cars until 25, run for the U.S. Senate until they are 30, and run for President until 35. This is evidence of a graduated adulthood. But this argument is simply not sound. First and foremost, rental car companies are not legally kept from renting cars to those under 25, it is a decision made by insurance companies. In fact, some rental companies do rent to those under 25, and higher rates compensate for the potential liability. In short, 25 is not an age of increased adultness.

Neither is 30. Article II Section 3 of the US Constitution mandates that: “No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years.” But strangely enough this clause has not preemptively kept individuals from running for Senate. Indeed, the man who John F. Kennedy called one of the 5 best senators in the history of the Republic, Henry Clay, was first elected to the Senate at age 28. While no one has yet to challenge the legitimacy of the Presidential Age Requirement, it is clear that the Constitutional age requirements are something quite different than graduated adulthood markers. As the lone mentions of age in all of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the are requirements are more appropriately seen as exceptions to full adulthood, rather than benchmarks of adulthood.

So as it stands now when you turn 18 you are legal to engage in all things other adults do except drink alcohol and run for President. It’s bizarre but accurate. Somewhere along the line, our society failed to remember that individuals, by becoming an adult, become responsible for their actions. Whether you are 18, 19, 20, 38, 39, or 40, you are an adult, and when you drink and drive, just as when you smoke in public areas or ignore traffic laws, you are responsible . By maintaining a drinking age different than 18, our society sends a signal that drinking and driving (the original target of the 21 MLDA) is worse in consequence for young adults than it is for older adults. This opens up a Pandora’s box when it comes to expanding the logic against real and perceived public health threats. Targeting groups by age beyond some measure of adulthood validates the fears raised in the Federalist Papers that a democratic system of government offers too little protection for the rights of minority factions against the will of the masses. Above and beyond its deleterious consequences, the 21 year-old drinking age threatens the integrity of egalitarianism in an otherwise representative democracy. 18 year-old drinking age is an act of justice.