Simply put: Parkland is on us.

February 25, 2018

The discussion to lower the voting age in the United States from 21 to 18 began during World War II, re-emerged during the Korean War and came to a head with Vietnam. The idea was simple enough: if you were old enough for the government to draft you into fighting a war, you were old enough to vote for the politicians sending you off to die in said war.

A reasonable sentiment that had gained enough support that in March, 1971 Congress passed a proposed amendment to make 18 the legal voting age across the land. It was so popular that in less than 100 days it was ratified by the required number of states and by July became the 26th Amendment to the Constitution.

But as 18 year olds today know full well, the “18 is an adult” sentiment is dependent upon activity. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 withheld 10 percent of a state’s federal highway funds unless it raised its minimum drinking age to 21 and in five states the minimum age to purchase tobacco products is now 21 as well.

Yet at that same age of 18, society lets you enter into a legally binding contract or sign away a sizable chunk of your future earnings via the student loan in the blink of an eye.

And as we’ve all been so solemnly reminded in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL, 18 also allows one to legally purchase a “long gun”.

The only consistency of when you’re an adult in this country is the inconsistency of how the title is applied.

In the aftermath of Parkland , there is a growing call to raise the legal age to purchase long guns to match the 21 years required for handguns.

The sentiment is simple enough: “If the age was 21, the shooter could not have legally purchase the rifle, and without that purchase there would be no shooting, no shooting leaves 17 souls still alive.” While the first statement is provably true, the two that follow rely are purely speculative. A classic example of taking one, provable fact and letting emotion extrapolate that fact into wishful thinking.

But just raising the age to purchase or banning one “type” of gun over another solves nothing. Yes, it makes for good soundbites and raises ratings for cable news channels, but where it matters, on our streets and in our schools, it falls woefully short.

The AR-15 (for Armalite not Assault Rifle) has been around for over half a century. A half century that saw me attend a high school that on any given day a stroll through the parking lot would yield an arsenal of guns. Some in plain site hanging in pickup window racks. Some shotguns, some rifles, some bolt-action, some semi-automatic, none used to walk into school and start killing.

To which now I might be told: “But Caldwell, those were different times, you can’t go back to then, to justify guns today.” To which I would reply: “Thank you for making my point.”.

They were different times. And in scope of violence very different times. The late ’60’s and early ’70s unleashed on this nation a level of violence not seen since the Civil War. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, the Weather Underground and FALN bombings, riots and violent protests was the regular programming on the nightly news.

I came of age during that time of unbridled violence. I saw it day in and day out, ever wondering what caused people to act in such ways.

And yet through all of that, no Columbine, no Sandy Hook, no Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The guns have always been there. The gun “culture” with us since before we were even a nation. What’s changed? The answer is simply: we’ve changed.

Over the past 50 years we’ve removed virtually every moral guardrail that keeps a civil society civil.

We have had over half a century of a film industry obsessed with gratuitous sex and violence, a video gaming industry that desensitizes an untold number of our youth to violence and death, a social media culture rewarding shallow over substance, and a complete break down of the family unit.

No, it is not the gun that has led us into this chamber of horrors in which we are currently trapped, it is us.

We can ban every gun being made, confiscate all those already made, and we can sue every manufacturer out of business, but until we as a society look in the mirror and realize what we’ve done to ourselves, death will continue to come.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE: A version of this column first appeared in the Sunday print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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