I hereby decree…
Age restrictions aren’t solutions to serious social problems.
For one, they are in and of themselves a serious social problem. But even if you don’t care about that, there is still a lot to be concerned about with a reliance on age restrictions when faced with a public health challenge.
With still more horrifying mass shootings in recent weeks, talk of gun control vs gun rights has surged as expected. It’s a messy issue that I mostly stay out of as I really have no strong feelings or a lot of direct knowledge about it. But there’s still plenty of terrible ideas floating around, especially the suggestion to arm teachers, which is without a doubt just about the worst idea in the history of the universe.
Of course, there’s also calls for raising gun purchase ages to 21.
Which, aside from age restrictions being harmful discrimination against young people that exacerbates their already severe marginalization, is completely beside the point.
Raising the gun age does nothing about all the politicians who are in the NRA’s pocket. It does nothing about navigating the balance between good faith self defense measures and enabling someone who wants a lot of people dead. It does nothing about reconciling gun restrictions with those who feel this would be an attack on their culture. It does nothing about making sure any gun control measures or enforcement aren’t racist or ableist or otherwise target or scapegoat vulnerable populations. It does nothing about the conditions of certain institutions of our society that might drive someone to want to commit some atrocity in the first place. It does nothing about all the guns adults can still purchase and thus are still being put out into the world (something the retailers raising their gun sale ages don’t seem to mind continuing to profit from). These are the complicated issues, among many others, that need to be addressed to do the issue of guns any justice. At best, acting like an age restriction solves anything is a waste of energy, but worse it distracts from the real issue in all its complexity, making the age of a shooter at all important, making fixing that a goal, such that when it’s done someone can claim a victory without having really done anything. And given that, while this complicated issue is being negotiated, people are dying, distracting it with unrelated tangential non-issues is downright irresponsible. Focus on the matter at hand and leave age (and mental health, by the way) out of it.
And it happens in other areas.
States have been raising their age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21, just to say, hey, look at us championing public health. Even though most smokers are much older than that. They say the age restriction is because it’s easier to get addicted when you start young, but this then really just takes responsibility off older smokers to quit. When raising the age is touted as some big solution rather than a pathetic grasping for straws, then the issue of smoking is made to be a young people problem, that the problem isn’t that the tobacco industry is making bank putting out a deadly product but that those who use it are the wrong age.
And let’s not forget alcohol and the questionable logic allowing one to sincerely believe you stop drunk drivers by raising the drinking age to 21, rather than, say, doing something about actual drunk drivers. Or, like with cigarettes and guns, questioning the industry and culture that promotes and clings to alcohol so hard despite all the harm it does.
Seriously, with these and more, look for an age restriction someone wants to raise or enforce more strictly, and I’ll show you an actual serious social issue that’s being avoided. If young people are being restricted like this because of some personal or social hazard, maybe we should be looking at that hazard and its place in our culture.
Okay, so I’m not saying the age restriction is always at the expense of actual concrete solutions. But it does present itself as a bandage, as a comparatively simple fix to rally around just to be able to notch a victory. It makes one look like they’re taking action, doing something they think is at worst harmless and perhaps common sense anyway (which, of course, isn’t even close to true, but that’s what they believe), and patting themselves on the back for being on the right side of progress. And advocates need to wise up and stop falling for it.
In truth, age restrictions are far less about safety than about adult policy makers making themselves look good and responsible to one another while simultaneously shifting blame off themselves. And it’s so easy to do, because we’ve been conditioned from a young age to equate an adult restricting a young person with responsibility, without questioning the efficacy or morality of the restriction, without wondering that the adult has their own difficult questions to answer and changes to make on the issue.
Believe it or not, young people having even the slightest bit of freedom and autonomy isn’t the cause of all or even any of the world’s problems. If we truly want to solve anything, if we truly want to see meaningful change and save lives, stop acting like it is!