Under the Radar

Sound Off: Should America Lower the Drinking Age for Active Duty Military?

Sailors Descend Upon New York During Fleet Week
NEW YORK - MAY 28: US Navy sailors (R to L) Kevin McClure, Nata Drees and US Marine Cameron Wainright share a laugh in a bar during Fleet Week festivities May 28, 2004 in New York City. Fleet Week includes dozens of military demonstrations and displays throughout the week, as well as public visitation of many of the participating ships. -- Getty Images

This week, state lawmakers in South Dakota's House State Affairs Committee will consider a bill that would lower the drinking age to 18 for active duty military, including the National Guard.

Anyone who grew up in the '70s remember the wild times created when most states lowered their drinking ages to 18. That coincided with the passage of the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The "old enough to fight, old enough to vote" rallying cry that fueled its passage soon became "old enough to die, old enough to drink" and alcohol laws soon changed all over the country.

There sure are a lot of 18-year-olds in high school and anyone who remembers being a teenager can predict the results. Limited driving experience added to even less drinking experience added up to a sharp increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths.

By the early '80s, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was leading a charge to pressure states to raise their drinking ages. States rights went out the window and President Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which threatened to withhold federal highway funds from states that didn't enact a minimum drinking age of 21.

Ask anyone born between 1962-1965 about all the chaos this created. Some people were legal when they turned 18, then they weren't. Some states grandfathered in kids who became legal, others didn't. Service members were legal in one state and then weren't when they transferred to a different one.

We've gone in a big circle to get back to the issue at hand in South Dakota. Representative Tim Goodwin, a military veteran and the bill's sponsor, stated, "If somebody is going to join the military and fight for his country and possibly give up his life for his country, he should be considered an adult and should be able to have an adult beverage. It's an insult that they have to wait until they're 21."

Yep, that's the argument that worked back in 1971.

Except this time, Governor Dennis Daugaard is concerned about the potential loss of federal highway funds required by the still-in-force National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Daugaard stated, "While we can choose to ignore that law, the consequence is that choice loses us about $300 million of national gas tax funding. That's a lot of money."

What should America do? Leave the drinking laws as they are? Should we change the National Minimum Drinking Age Act so there's an exception for military members? Or is it time to lower the drinking age for everyone? Sound off! 

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