In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This bit of feel-good legislation recognized that the federal government couldn’t technically force the states to raise the drinking age to 21, but it did threaten to hold up to 10% of their federal highway funds hostage if they didn’t comply. In short order, everyone went along with it.
Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, Wisconsin is debating a bill which would lower the age back down to 19. This should set the stage for a long overdue discussion on when our nation recognizes adulthood to have begun and how we deal with matters of personal responsibility. (Fox News)
A bill proposed by lawmakers in Wisconsin aims to lower the beer-loving state’s drinking age to 19. However it will face some though obstacles along the way, including the possibility of losing part of the state’s federal funding.
The bill, circulated Wednesday by three Republican lawmakers including the former president of the Wisconsin Tavern League, faces an uphill battle as it needs the support of key GOP lawmakers.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who plays a central role in determining which bills are brought up for vote, has said he would not support the bill. Neither the leader of the Wisconsin Senate nor Gov. Scott Walker have voiced their opinion on the bill.
This is going to raise the usual objections from the nanny state contingent and, at least in this one case, they have some data to suggest they have a point. Back in 2014, a widely touted study concluded that “The Debate is Over” and the higher drinking age was working as intended. According to those findings, the 21-year minimum drinking age has saved up to 900 lives per year.
Supporters of the status quo also point to New Zealand, which lowered their minimum age briefly a few years ago and immediately saw an increase in alcohol-related automobile accident fatalities. Similarly, a separate study revealed that Canada (where the drinking age is still 18) has the worst drunk driving mortality rate among wealthy, developed nations.
So why in the world would anyone support lowering the drinking age? Because it’s not the government’s responsibility to save us from ourselves, for starters. Even if you accept all the data in the studies linked above (and much of it is up for debate), we’re talking about adults taking responsibility for their own actions. How we manage to draw some sort of mystical demarcation between when you’re old enough to be considered an adult and when you are further “adult enough” to participate in some specific, legal activity remains a mystery to me.
While it’s the most common example to bring up in these discussions, it certainly bears repeating: how have we determined that someone eighteen years of age is adult enough to put on a uniform and go die for their country on some foreign battlefield but they’re too immature to have a beer? Further, you can get married without parental consent in every state of the nation by the age of 18. (In some cases, considerably younger.) Isn’t that a fairly significant sign of “adulting” as some of my friends like to say?
Look, we need to come to some sort of decision as to whether or not alcohol is an acceptable product to be available in this country or not, much the same as we’ve had to do with tobacco, caffeine, sugar and everything else. If it’s truly “too dangerous” for our society to tolerate, then take another shot at passing prohibition. But if it’s not, then people have to be responsible for their own decisions. The drinking age was 18 when I was coming up and look how I turned out! Okay… that’s probably not the best example, but you see what I’m saying.