Monday, February 23, 2009

Legal Adulthood: Is it 18 or 21?

Generally in the United States, a person is considered a legal adult at 18. According to, “It is the age at which one becomes a legal adult and gains full legal rights.” But in reality, no one at the age of 18 has “full legal rights” in the U.S. They can not purchase, posses or drink alcohol, obtain a gun carrying permit or even rent a hotel room in most places. The problem isn’t that 18-year-olds should be able to run around drunk with guns tucked into their waist bands. The problem is that 18-year-olds are said to be legal adults and “liable for their own actions,” but there are still some actions that they are not legally allowed to partake in.

When a U.S. citizen turns 18, they are allowed to do a number of things: stay out as late as they wish, join the military, vote in local and national elections. Eighteen-year-olds, in some states, can even run for political office. However, if they want to propose a toast upon being elected, they’d better do it with ginger ale. Legal adults can bid farewell to their curfews, but they shouldn’t plan on going to a club that serves alcohol on the weekends, because chances are, they won’t be permitted inside. Also, one can enlist in the military at 18 and carry machine guns on their backs, but they can not obtain a carrying permit otherwise. Those who choose to get married at 18 should consider camping on their honeymoon; unless they plan on bringing their parents along to sign for a hotel room. Gambling is out of the question for “adults” under 21, as well, except for “scratch-off tickets.” But if “adults” under 21 get stressed out over all the things they can’t do, they can always head over to the gas station and buy a pack of cigarettes. Not only are the laws surrounding legal adulthood confusing, they’re also contradictory.

Once a person reaches 18, they can be legally held responsible for their actions as adults. However, they aren’t even allowed to make certain decisions for themselves at that age. The decisions they can make and the things they can do seem to contradict those that they can’t. It’s obvious that drinking and carrying a gun are things that need to be handled by mature, responsible adults. Some argue that 18 is an age of immaturity, and that 18-year-olds do not know how to make responsible decisions when it comes to drinking, gambling and other activities. However, decisions about marriage, running for political office and joining the military should also be made by adults who have those same qualities.

So who decided that 18 was an adequate age to choose who the next president will be, but not an adequate age to pull the handle of a slot machine? The bottom line is, whether it be 18 or 21, the age that determines legal adulthood should grant citizens just that: adulthood. There should be one age that determines what a person can and can not do. Citizens should not be told that they are mature enough to do certain things at 18, but not mature enough to do other things until they reach the age of 21. Once someone is told that they are a legal adult, they should be treated as one.

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