Thursday, November 25, 2021

Votes, Guns, and Coming of Age in America, Fall 2021

         On Sunday, Nov. 21, the Ventura County Star reprinted an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch starting from the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and the raising of the US drinking age to 21, to argue that (using the Star’s headline) "National age floor of 21 needed for guns."

There are issues I’d like to look at and an alternative to propose.
In two books in the 1990s, Michael Males argued that in terms of social pathologies — crime, for example — older US teens are a normal US adult population, and usually doing better than their elders; older teens had become, as stated in these titles, a Scapegoat Generation, targets in a process of Framing Youth
The problem isn’t "What’s the matter with kids today?" but more generally with normal adult US populations, and solutions need to be more general, including with guns.
Such an argument can seem more likely when we note the many times (as in the Post-Dispatch piece) we see the phrase "raging hormones" and how seldom we see numbers for actual measurements of hormone levels at various ages. It is definitely plausible and it was my experience to have what felt like hormone fluctuations going through puberty. After that what seems to be crucial to the experience is whether or not people are "having sex" regularly and settling down, and in the modern US we have the issue of delayed marriage and fairly long periods in which older teens are not invited to engage in socially-endorsed sex or adult domesticity. Let’s have some numbers on testosterone and other hormones at different ages and correlations with, say, violence and crime, including the more subtle kinds.
More recently, there is the idea that "Young people’s brains are still developing," which I do not doubt. But it’s safe to assume young brains have been developing through recorded history and across human cultures, and the argument needs historical and cross-cultural context. The example cuts both ways, but Alexander the Great came to the throne at 20, and by the time he was old enough to be US President he’d been dead for 2-3 years and had conquered and ruled fairly well much of his world. Octavius Caesar was doing major politics at 17 or 18; Elizabeth Tudor survived her teenage years — and all sorts of young people worked and married and lived as young adults for millennia.
Whatever is happening with young brains, we need sensible gun laws for everyone.
And as long as we’re going to have young men eligible for getting guns from the government — conscription — at 18, the rule is still, "Old enough to fight; old enough to vote. Old enough to vote, old enough to drink alcohol" and own guns under the same (sensible) laws as their elders.
What we need in the USA is an "age of majority" — full adulthood — across the board, with enforced adult expectations, and some sort of rite of passage: perhaps a few months or up to a year of military or other public service at 18 or so, to the extent the USA can afford it. 

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