It’s a perennial argument that touches on public safety, legal hypocrisy, federalism, and morality. We try people as adults for committing crimes even before the age of 18 and exclusively in criminal court at that age and older — including for drunken driving. At 18, Americans can enlist in the armed forces, become responsible for contracts and debt, and hold public office at state and local levels. What they can’t do is buy a beer anywhere in America, thanks to the imposition of federal control through the use of highway funds. Does an age limit of 21 make any kind of rational sense? Reason TV says no:
The only real reason to treat citizens between 18 and 20 differently is public safety, but as this explains, that’s not even very well established. No one doubts that these adults have access to alcohol whether or not they can buy it directly. Instead of channeling them into areas with some kind of supervision like bars and nightclubs, they get forced underground, which arguably encourages binge drinking. (Binging isn’t entirely unknown in bars, either, but bar owners face legal ramifications when it occurs.) While alcohol-related driving fatalities have decreased since standardization of the drinking age, that’s probably a lot more attributable to heavier penalties on enforcement and societal anger over drunk driving in general — which is why fatalities have declined in every age group of drivers, as the video explains.
The policy makes absolutely no sense from a legal standpoint. If a person is considered fully, legally responsible at 18 for his conduct, what justification is there for banning his purchase of a legal product? And why should the federal government be involved at all? The FBI doesn’t enforce alcohol sales statutes; local and state authorities have that jurisdiction. The citizens of each state should decide for themselves what rules fit their community, and whether they want to continue the hypocrisy of treating 18-20 year olds as some kind of Junior Citizens.