One of the more ridiculous calls since the school shooting in Florida is to lower the voting age to 16. As CNN and others continue to exploit grieving classmates and parents on air to make their emotional appeals for more gun control, some are saying the kids are showing enough ‘wisdom’ that it’s a shame they can’t vote.
Give me a break. Even setting aside for the moment that some of these kids are being coached and controlled on talking points, let’s not forget that others their age were recently consuming laundry detergent as part of an online “challenge.” And that challenge is only one of several idiotic trends in recent years. In short, those who are calling for 16-year olds to vote are doing so in the expectation they’d be an easily manipulated voting bloc. That’s to be expected since statists have always counted on youth to be their vanguard.
It’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1960s, the Federal voting age was 21. The national agony of the Vietnam War raised the profile of a longstanding question about young men being old enough (18) to be drafted and possibly die for their country, but not old enough to have a say in its decisions. This juxtaposition led to the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971.
Many people may not realize it, but a similar dilemma is presenting itself. During last night’s CNN “Town Hall” on gun laws, Marco Rubio professed support for “taking away” the right of an 18-year old to buy a rifle. The alleged gunman in last week’s shooting was 19 and had purchased his weapon legally (in no small part because of failure to act on his past behavior), so this would at first seem a targeted response.
The problem is this: though he has flip-flopped on the issue, Rubio has in the past also expressed support for expanding Selective Service registration to include women as well as men, while never mentioning any change to the draft age. Taking these positions together, Rubio is saying an 18-year old man or woman is old enough to be handed a rifle in the service of their country, but not old enough to be entrusted with the Constitutional right to own one!
At what age do we become “responsible adults?” Clearly the mileage varies from person to person. It’s safe to say, however, that our society increasingly postpones leaving youthfulness behind. As it says in the linked article, “We expect less maturity from young adults and deny them the responsibility that helps them grow. They live down to our expectations.” All the better to develop an electorate that desires a Nanny State to facilitate their extended childhood. In other words, current trends are not conducive to maintaining our individual liberties.
This is the broader discussion we need to have: at what point should people be entrusted with the rights and responsibilities of adulthood — including full accountability for their actions? In more than half of the States, the age of sexual consent is 16, but in all States one must be at least 18 to get married without parental or court approval. As a 19-year old, last week’s gunman will stand trial as an adult and is eligible for the death penalty. But under Rubio’s proposal, others who are legal adults would not have the full privileges of owning a firearm. As it now stands, 18-year olds are able to serve in the military, but not purchase cigarettes (until 19) or alcohol (until 21). I can attest first-hand to the discipline issues that creates in the armed forces.
I can also attest to the difference those three years make in developing adults. Not long ago, I went directly from teaching college freshmen to teaching high school seniors. It was amazing to me the difference in overall maturity and engagement just that one year made. (As already stated, the mileage varied.) With both my older Musketeers, I waited until 16 to let them get a driver’s permit, and 17 for their license — a year behind what the State would have allowed. There’s a reason, after all, why young men under 25 have the highest car insurance premiums. When the time came to teach them, both showed a seriousness about the responsibility they were taking on, and neither gave their mother or me reason to worry they’d be reckless with a car. (Six years on, both are still “wreck-less.”)
Which brings me to a final point: the role of fathers in developing adulthood.
Without dads as role models, boys’ testosterone is not well channeled. The boy experiences a sense of purposelessness, a lack of boundary enforcement, rudderlessness, and often withdraws into video games and video porn. At worst, when boys’ testosterone is not well-channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most destructive forces. When boys’ testosterone is well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most constructive forces.
I believe the erosion of the nuclear family has contributed greatly to the rise of extended adolescence and immaturity. When I think of the number of times over the years I’ve had to correct my young men when their interactions with their mother or others were less than respectful, it gives me great pause to wonder what would have been were I not in the picture. I’m by no means a perfect man or father, but I’m engaged in bringing out the man in my Musketeers.
Given the state of today’s culture, we have some decisions to make. Do we expect more of our young people and hold them to those standards, or do we move the goalposts of adulthood expectations to a higher age? Should we standardize expectations so that all the rights and privileges apply at the same age, or do we have justification for doling them out a few at a time over several years? And if a 19-year old can’t be entrusted to have a firearm without adequate consideration of others, do they really need to be in a voting booth helping decide national policies?
I don’t profess to have the definitive answer, though I believe a strong case could be made for making 21 the standard legal age for all purposes — and that includes eligibility for Selective Service. As I said, though, this needs to be a conversation. What are your thoughts?