Old Enough to Fight. Old Enough to … Drink?

At his blog Seen Through a Glass, the excellent beer and spirits writer Lew Bryson has had an intriguing series of posts over the last year on the sense and nonsense of American liquor law.

Specifically, Bryson believes we should lower the legal drinking age (LDA) to 18—and that the current law causes more problems than it prevents. It’s a solution that isn’t considered enough: At a recent Democratic presidential debate, as Bryson notes, everyone but Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich “fell over themselves” to dismiss the idea—but Bryson has kept hitting on it. As he wrote recently, “All those laws do is force them [18- to 21-year-olds] to drink in unsafe places and ways. Lower the age to 18, add education and responsibility to the system, put some new incentives and punishments into the retail chain, make changes in how the whole thing works.”

Earlier this week, Bryson analyzed a Philadelphia Inquirer report on a rash of underage drinking in a wealthy suburb: deaths, serious hospitalizations, tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. It’s a tragic story that other writers might have avoided. But Bryson dived in:

This is one of the main reasons I’m pushing an 18 LDA: so we can focus enforcement efforts on students under 18. The New Drys say an 18 LDA will put more booze in the hands of under 18 students. Reading this story, I don’t hardly see how. I say, an 18 LDA will let us stop wasting time and money trying to get college students to stop drinking, and let us help parents keep an eye on their at-home kids.

This is an idea that might be catching on. Bryson supports the plank of a new pro-LDA-18 organization called Choose Responsibility. It’s not a fly-by-night or beer-industry-sponsored group: It was founded earlier this year by someone who’s had the opportunity to think an awful lot about these issues, a former college president—specifically, the ex-head of Vermont’s Middlebury College. (And for those interested in further reading, here’s Choose Responsibility’s blog.)