The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Age of Majority Is a Mess

Students carrying placards walk on the street during a protest in support of the gun control, in Plantation, Florida, February 21, 2018. (Carlos Garcia/Reuters)

When is a person an “adult”? When are they deemed to be independent, responsible, their own master? Does anyone care, except when seeking a temporary political advantage? As I type, some Americans are trying to raise the age at which one may buy a rifle from 18 to 21 — usually on the grounds that one’s brain isn’t developed until one reaches 25. At the same time, many of the same people are arguing for lowering the voting age to 16 — and possibly younger. What’s the rationale? It is often glibly asserted that voting never hurt anyone. Does anyone familiar with history believe that to be remotely true?

And what of the knock-on questions, which seem be left carefully unaddressed? If you can vote at 16, should you be drafted at 16? Or should that be raised to 21, to make sure you’re mature enough to own weapons? What about the the age at which we try the accused as adults? Raised, in line with the weapons rationale, or lowered, in line with voting? And why? It is hard not to suspect that the progressives who have simultaneously proposed these two changes simply want fewer gun owners and more Democratic voters, and that their interest in this area ends there. What’s the principle on display?

Is this reconsideration the beginning of a broader trend, or is it a knee-jerk reaction to the atrocity in Parkland? Rifles are used in around 250 murders per year in America; so-called “assault weapons” in about 20-50. That’s fewer people than are killed by knives, or by hands and feet, or by blunt objects such as hammers. Each year, 8,000 Americans are killed by drivers aged between 16-20. What does that tell us about our priorities, or our mawkish “if it saves one life” standard?

The whole thing is a mess. We ask our 18-year-olds to fight and die for their country — in explicit defense of the Constitution — but we don’t let them buy the handguns that are protected by that same Constitution. Soon, we may not let them buy rifles either. I’m open to hearing arguments as to why this patchwork quilt makes sense. I just haven’t seen any good ones yet. This is the worst of democracy.

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