Our Opinion: Gun purchase age must remain same as legal voting age

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This isn’t really about guns. It’s about citizenship.

President Donald Trump has suggested raising the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, perhaps in a calculated concession to gun control advocates offered as an alternative to outright bans on certain firearms.

We oppose an increased gun sales age limit for the same reason we’re against restricting cigarette purchases to those 21 and up. Such proposals target a narrow segment of adult citizens, arbitrarily stripping them of American rights and freedoms and denying them full participation in society.

That’s right, we said “adult” — not adult-in-training, not teenager, not adolescent. Eighteen is the age of majority in the United States. It’s the legal threshold for adulthood, the age at which men and women can vote, execute contracts, buy land and join the military.

Think that’s a Revolution-era relic from a time when lifespans were shorter, public education ended with grammar school and teens tied the knot so often that an unmarried twentysomething woman was considered a spinster? Think again.

The 26th Amendment, ratified in July 1971, reduced the voting age from 21 to 18. An upswing in political activism among college students protesting the Vietnam War and demanding free speech on campus helped extend the electoral franchise to young people, making these citizens equal to their elder statesmen.

Paradoxically, a lower voting age led to a higher drinking age. States set varying standards for the purchase and consumption of alcohol, with 18 and 21 being most common. After the 26th Amendment passed, 21-and-up states began switching to 18-and-up under the reasonable premise that voting rights are the ultimate line in the sand separating minors from adults.

To combat drunken driving, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 and withheld highway funds from states that set the alcohol purchase age below 21. Every last state eventually fell in line and adopted the preferred federal standard.

Alcohol is the primary outlier today — most other rights, privileges and freedoms are vested at age 18. But paternalistic politicians are working overtime to dilute the age of majority, extend adolescence and disenfranchise citizens in good standing merely because there aren’t enough candles on their birthday cake.

New Jersey, Maine, California, Oregon and Hawaii have increased the age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. North Carolina lawmakers led by Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, tried the same thing here, but their bill went up in smoke.

After 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was charged with the slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the age restriction crowd put high-powered rifles in their crosshairs.

Federal law already requires licensed dealers to limit handgun sales to buyers 21 and up, though 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds can legally own pistols and revolvers they get as gifts or purchase from private sellers. Some scholars say adding long guns to the list would stretch Second Amendment jurisprudence beyond its breaking point.

Discrimination against young people is no more defensible than discrimination against senior citizens. It’s a form of ageism, prejudice as public policy.

Misguided folks say 18’s too tender an age to be considered a grownup. They point to scientific studies showing the human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. They push for safe spaces, trigger warnings and speech codes on college campuses, believing young citizens too fragile to tolerate debate and dissent.

Is it any wonder some millennials, the much-maligned “snowflakes,” are living down to expectations? Their elders — parents, professors and politicians alike — have done them a great disservice.

Young Americans should be empowered, not infantilized. Instead of cloaking them in protection, prohibition and paternalism, we must pass the torch of freedom. And these full-fledged citizens must hoist it high.

Our modest proposal for answering age limits, should any find their way into law: So long as 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds retain the right to vote, they ought to exact their revenge on age restriction advocates at the ballot box. That’ll teach them to underestimate you.