Miles Supports Lower Drinking Age

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Miles Supports Lower Drinking Age

by Ari Armstrong, August 5, 2004

A big deal has been made of Pete Coors's suggestion that we rethink the drinking age and possibly return it to 18. I wrote an article about this for the August 5 Boulder Weekly (reproduced below). It turns out that Mike Miles, a Democrat in the U.S. Senate race, also supports lowering the drinking age to 18. Here I include the candidates' complete answers to questions I asked them along with material I had to cut from the column. With the questions, I wanted to know if the candidates were willing to send 18-year-olds to Iraq to fight in a war but prevent those adults from buying select beverages and firearms. I also asked a couple questions about federalism. Mike Krause also addresses the isue of the drinking age (below).

Mike Miles

July 29

1. Would you have voted to send troops (or otherwise supported the sending of troops) to Iraq?

I opposed the invasion of Iraq because we had not answered critical tough questions before the invasion. We had not asked what constitutes an imminent threat, what the preconditions for democracy are in the Middle East, how the preemptive use of force in Iraq affects our foreign policy more broadly, etc. We had not defined what "success" would entail.

Success in Iraq now means helping the Iraqi people build a stable society that is moving toward its own form of democracy. It also means working with the Iraqi government and the international community to combat terrorism and address the root causes of terrorism.

The U.S. must lower its profile and give up contracting authority to the Iraqi government and to the United Nations -- it must "de-Halliburton" Iraq. We must relinquish resources and control over contracts in order to enable the Iraqi government to put its people back to work. Iraqis can drive their own trucks and build their own schools. If we truly want the government to be sovereign and to have a fighting chance to rid itself of terrorist groups, it must have control over its resources and reconstruction monies.

2. Do you support keeping the drinking age at 21?

I believe the drinking age should be 18. We trust young men and women to vote at 18 and to fight in war; I think we could trust them to drink responsibly. Certainly some will abuse the privilege, but no more than those who already drink illegally.

3. Do you think the federal government should use highway funding to influence state policies?

No. I believe that the federal government should not violate states rights. Legislation and policies affecting intra-state transportation fall under the express purview of the state.

4. Does the U.S. Constitution authorize the federal government to set or influence drinking policy, and, if so, where?

No.

5. Do you think adults 18-20 years old should be prevented from purchasing firearms generally or any specific firearms?

I think all adults should be prevented from purchasing certain types of firearms. I own a gun and support an individual's right to bear arms. However, there are some weapons that should not be in the public domain as they are too lethal. We should hold reasoned discourse about what degree of lethality -- combination of caliber and rate of fire -- is so great that public safety is adversely affected.

Mike Miles for Senate Committee
P.O. Box 75562
Colorado Springs, CO 80970
719-459-3504
www.mikemiles4senate.com
mikemiles4senate@aol.com

Bob Schaffer

July 27

1. Would you have voted to send troops (or otherwise supported the sending of troops) to Iraq?

Yes. The global community stood behind UN Resolution 1441 to incapacitate Saddam's regime and eliminate his threats to his neighbors, his subjects and Americans. He will no longer harbor terrorists, no longer seek nuclear components and no longer torment the Iraqi people by subjecting them to fear and squalor.

2. Do you support keeping the drinking age at 21?

Yes. Colorado's law on the drinking age was passed on a state-initiated bi-partisan basis by the Colorado State Legislature. The law's author, State Rep. Bill Owens (now governor) argued cogently the state's desire to reduce traffic deaths and injuries, which the law has accomplished.

3. Do you think the federal government should use highway funding to influence state policies?

No. Colorado has consistently resisted efforts by the federal government to coerce states to adopt state policy inconsistent with state priorities. For example, the Colorado Legislature has not given in to the "federal blackmail" on several highway-funding issues such as mandatory motorcycle helmets. Such federal efforts should yield to legitimate state initiatives.

4. Does the U.S. Constitution authorize the federal government to set or influence drinking policy, and, if so, where?

Yes: Amendment XXI, Section 2 of the US Constitution does relative to transportation, importation and "use therein of intoxicating liquors." Also, the US Supreme Court has justified numerous federal alcohol regulations under Art.1 Sec. 8 of the US Constitution.

5. Do you think adults 18-20 years old should be prevented from purchasing firearms generally or any specific firearms?

Certain specific military issue weaponry can only be obtained for civilian use through special permits. Additionally some 18 -- 20 year olds, such as convicted felons, mentally ill, foreign nationals, and those who have renounced US citizenship currently cannot purchase firearms. With these exceptions, the Second Amendment applies to all adult US citizens.

www.schafferforsenate.com

Ken Salazar

July 29

1. Would you have voted to send troops (or otherwise supported the sending of troops) to Iraq?

President Bush made a persuasive case that Iraq presented an imminent threat to our national security, based on reports of weapons of mass destruction and links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. However, President Bush committed a grave mistake in how he pulled the trigger of war. That decision was based on faulty intelligence, a failure to develop the international coalitions needed to succeed, and an underestimation of the difficulty and costs of the war in Iraq.

2. Do you support keeping the drinking age at 21?

Yes.

3. Do you think the federal government should use highway funding to influence state policies?

No.

4. Does the U.S. Constitution authorize the federal government to set or influence drinking policy, and, if so, where?

I believe this is generally best left to the states.

5. Do you think adults 18-20 years old should be prevented from purchasing firearms generally or any specific firearms?

In August of 1999, after a Summit on School Safety and the Prevention of Youth Violence that the Governor and Attorney General hosted earlier in the year, both Governor Bill Owens and I recommended raising from 18 to 21 years old the age for purchasing firearms at gun shows.

WWW.SALAZARFORCOLORADO.COM

Ari's Additional Comments

(Note: More commentary on the drinking age is also available.)

Ironically, while my goal was to defend Coors and criticize Schaffer over the matter of the drinking age, Schaffer responded to my questions, while Coors did not. I sent out questions via e-mail and regular mail (I spent two stamps on Coors) on July 21. Schaffer responded on July 27, Mike Miles and Ken Salazar (the two Democrats in the race) both replied on July 29 (after I placed follow-up calls the day before), and Coors never replied, even after follow-up calls on July 28 and 30. Either Coors's campaign staff dropped the ball, or Coors wants to limit what the public knows about his views. The issues count for a lot, but responsiveness counts for something.

* * *

If a person bears full legal responsibility for his or her actions, it's only fair to also have full legal rights. No advocate of the higher drinking age has argued that 20-year-old men should be charged as juveniles, for instance. If we want to raise the age of adulthood to, say, 19, for all responsibilities and rights, that's fine, so long as the rules change across the board. My own favored approach is to draw a firm line for adulthood at 18, but to allow people younger than that to petition a court for full adult status. After all, some 17-year-olds I've met are more responsible than some 50-year-olds.

* * *

My father Linn joined the military when he was 19, though he was 21 when he got his orders to go to Vietnam. My step-father also served in 'Nam, and my two grandfathers served in the Pacific during WWII. All my life I thought my grandfather was a teetotaler, until I found a picture of him with his army buddies, sharing a celebratory beer stateside.

My dad told me that before 18-20-year-old adults were deprived of their rights, "they had adult supervision -- big, bad bouncers. Today they go into somebody's house" to drink. Sort of like what happened with CU's football recruits.

"Frankly," my dad continued, "if you're old enough to go off to Iraq or Afghanistan, you ought to be able to buy a beer." He recalls the days when at least 3.2 beer was available to 18-20-year-old adults.

These adults are handed automatic rifles and the controls to tanks and battleships. Responsible enough to die in war, but not responsible enough to buy a beer? To take another example, an adult woman can get married, have a child, take out a mortgage, and hold down a job, but she may be denied her right to purchase a glass of wine with dinner. Many policies are more damaging, but few are more absurd.

It wouldn't take very long to come up with a long list of other social groups that, statistically speaking, are more likely to abuse some right or other.

* * *

Here's more history of the drinking laws, as provided by the AMA: "After Prohibition, nearly all states restricting youth access to alcohol designated 21 as the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA). Between 1970 and 1975, however, 29 states lowered the MLDA to 18, 19, or 20. These changes occurred when the minimum age for other activities, such as voting, also were being lowered... With evidence that a lower drinking age resulted in more traffic injuries and fatalities among youth [evidence that's open to debate], citizen advocacy groups pressured states to restore the MLDA to 21. Because of such advocacy campaigns, 16 states increased their MLDAs between September 1976 and January 1983. Resistance from other states, and concern that minors would travel across state lines to purchase and consume alcohol, prompted the federal government in 1984 to enact the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which mandated reduced federal transportation funds to those states that did not raise the MLDA to 21."

* * *

Beer rights

by Ari Armstrong

Bob Schaffer, who is competing with Pete Coors for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, would have voted to send 18-20-year-old soldiers to Iraq to fight, risk death, and perhaps get their limbs blown off in battle. Yet Schaffer wants to deny these adults their right to purchase their beverage of choice once they get home.

As local papers reported, Schaffer attacked Coors during a debate based on Coors's 1997 remarks to USA Today: "Maybe the answer is lowering the drinking age so that kids learn to be responsible about drinking at a younger age. I'm not an advocate of trying to get people to drink, but kids are drinking now anyway. All we've done is criminalize them."

Colorado Conservative Voters, a group headed by former Senator Bill Armstrong, ran ads attacking Coors for supporting a lower drinking age, as the AP noted.

I asked Schaffer what he thinks about 18-20-year-olds buying guns. He replied, "Certain specific military issue weaponry can only be obtained for civilian use through special permits. Additionally some 18-20-year-olds, such as convicted felons, mentally ill, foreign nationals, and those who have renounced U.S. citizenship currently cannot purchase firearms. With these exceptions, the Second Amendment applies to all adult U.S. citizens." In other words, Schaffer wants an 18-year-old to be able to buy a semiautomatic battle rifle (which requires no "special permit"), but not a beer.

Mike Miles, the Democrat competing with Ken Salazar for his party's nomination, was the strongest on the drinking age: "I believe the drinking age should be 18. We trust young men and women to vote at 18 and to fight in war; I think we could trust them to drink responsibly. Certainly some will abuse the privilege, but no more than those who already drink illegally."

Miles did not directly answer my question about whether 18-20-year-olds should be able to buy guns. Instead, he said, "I think all adults should be prevented from purchasing certain types of firearms. I own a gun and support an individual's right to bear arms. However, there are some weapons that should not be in the public domain as they are too lethal." At least Miles wants to violate the rights of all adults equally; he does not discriminate against any group.

Salazar believes "President Bush made a persuasive case that Iraq presented an imminent threat to our national security," though "Bush committed a grave mistake in how he pulled the trigger of war." Salazar wants to keep the drinking age at 21. Concerning firearms, he said, "In August of 1999... both Governor Bill Owens and I recommended raising from 18 to 21 years old the age for purchasing firearms at gun shows." In other words, old enough to fight in war, but not old enough to decide what to drink or how to defend one's family.

Coors did not reply to my questions, despite numerous requests.

None of the candidates thinks the federal government should use highway funding to influence state policies. However, Schaffer pretends the drinking-age law was passed in Colorado in 1987 only because the legislature thought it was a good idea. As the American Medical Association summarizes, "Resistance from other states, and concern that minors would travel across state lines to purchase and consume alcohol, prompted the federal government in 1984 to enact the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which mandated reduced federal transportation funds to those states that did not raise the MLDA [minimum legal drinking age] to 21."

I attended a 1998 legislative hearing when State Senator Ron Tupa (then in the House) introduced a bill let 18-20-year-olds purchase 3.2 beer with some restrictions. A main objection raised was the fear of lost highway dollars.

Colorado data suggested alcohol-related fatalities were in decline before and after the higher drinking age was imposed. Nationally, various researchers have found a small correlation between a higher drinking age and fewer traffic fatalities, yet I'm not convinced the correlation proves causation. I suspect laws raising or lowering the drinking age through the '70s and '80s accompanied various other cultural trends that accounted both for the laws and the fatality rates.

The debate over statistics misses the broader issue: in a free society, we do not infringe the rights of an entire class of people because a small fraction of that class behaves criminally. Instead, the proper legal response is to deal directly with the criminal behavior of the few.

The general theory for limiting the freedoms of minors is that they aren't sufficiently rational to practice all their rights. For example, they can't get married, sign contracts, etc. However, at age 18, people are recognized by the government as having full legal responsibility for their actions. They can sign contracts, fight in war, and be charged criminally as adults.

If a politician will violate the right of an adult to purchase his or her beverage of choice, there is no logical limit to the number of other rights the politician will be willing to violate. If we don't even have the right to control our own bodies in peaceable ways, we can hardly be said to have any rights at all.

* * *

Pete Coors is Right

By Mike Krause

August 18, 2004

Why is it that at eighteen years an American can volunteer for military service and take up arms to kill and possibly die in the desert, but can't legally hoist a cold one in celebration upon returning home alive?

Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to have a pretty soft and fuzzy thought process not to be able to reconcile the two.

So it was both sad and amusing to watch Pete Coors, comments on the drinking age be blown wildly out of proportion during the recent primary elections. He really did nothing more than make a statement that accurately reflects the principles of limited government, federalism and individual liberty to which most Republicans lay claim, but which only a precious few practice.

And while the shrill response from the usual suspects on the authoritarian left was to be expected, the piling on by other conservatives makes it evident not only that the nanny-state is bi-partisan, but that Pete Coors is on to something.

While the drinking age dust-up is mostly symbolic, it reflects a larger movement away from liberty and responsibility and towards un-thinking devotion to the slogans and campaigns of busybodies and lifestyle police.

In early July at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver, the beer booths were posted with numerous placards proclaiming, "Under 40 We ID." The same slogan marks the beer cooler at my neighborhood King Soopers.

Ironically, one of the booths in question was Coors Light. In other words, despite Candidate Coorsâ correct criticism of the drinking age, his own company is part of the shrill nanny-state paranoia over the possibility of a teenager tasting a beer, which has dumbed us all down to the point where we accept that 39 year olds must be carded as part of the "zero-tolerance" or the more accurate "zero-thinking" movement in America.

It shouldnât be long until the new rule is "Still Breathing We ID."

Truth is we have lost sight of something special. That becoming an adult in America earns one a fairly spectacular degree of personal liberty and empowerment as a citizen -- tempered by equally important responsibilities in the exercise there of.

Some weeks after the arts festival I was part of a table full of consenting adults in a Denver area sports bar. Among the half a dozen Americans were several foreign nationals including two Brazilians in their late twenties and a Mexican, a Russian and a man from Uzbekistan, all in their early thirties.

Drinks were ordered and the waitress -- barely of age herself but still deputized through nanny-state edict to act on behalf of the government -- carded the table.

None of the foreigners were allowed to have a drink with dinner, because none of them were carrying their passports or IDs -- they actually thought they were just going out for a little dinner and conversation and were genuinely bewildered to be asked to show papers to order to have a drink.

The Americans on the other hand -- all clearly of age --reached for wallets and purses without hesitation.

The point is not that we should be more like Brazil, Mexico or the former Soviet Union, but rather quite the opposite.

None of foreign nationals at the table that night enjoy near the liberties, both personal and economic, that the U.S. provides. In fact, the contemporary histories of their respective homelands range from authoritarian one party rule, dictatorship and communism to runaway inflation and even death squads.

Yet it is the Americans who have swallowed whole the notion that government IDs must be carried and produced on demand to enjoy beer with nachos.

Sure it would be grand to see the drinking age lowered to eighteen again, though it is unlikely as there is no political will to make it happen.

What is possible is for those who are well past twenty-one to stop mindlessly submitting to nanny-state stupidity before our collective IQ drops any lower.

(c) 2004
The Independence Institute
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Golden, CO 80401
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www.indep endenceinstitute.org

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is the President of the Independence Institute.

MIKE KRAUSE is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

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