J. Neil Schulman’s Stopping Power — Old Enough to Die, Old Enough to Live?
Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Old Enough to Die, Old Enough to Live?
Should it be legal for kids to carry guns to school? Ask almost anyone, the answer will be, “Of course not.”
That was easy; let’s try a harder one.
Should a 14-year-old who kills a schoolmate for his CD-player be tried as an adult for murder — and if convicted be executed alongside the 25-year-old murderer?
That one, you’ll get answers on both sides.
Here’s one more: why is it junior-high kids are old enough to be given condoms to prevent pregnancy and AIDS, but they aren’t old enough to have monogamous sexual partners in a legally recognized marriage?
All these questions hinge on the definitions of what is a child and what is an adult.
Biology divides mammals between childhood and adulthood at the point when an animal is capable of sexual reproduction. In the primates, this is the onset of menses in the female, and the onset of spermatogenesis in the male.
Through most of human history, the biological line between childhood and adulthood — puberty — was the cultural and legal dividing line also. English common law allowed marriage at twelve for females and at fourteen for males. The Jewish bar mitzvah, in which a 13-year-old Jewish male takes on the responsibility to God for his own sins, provided another clear dividing line. In much of the Third World today, economics requires recognition of a post-pubescent individual as an adult.
In the modern United States, we ignore both biology and tradition by raising the age of legal adulthood. Military eligibility is set at 17 with parental consent. At 18 we require draft registration, allow voting and, in many states, legalize marriage and the ability to make binding contracts in one’s own name. The remaining rights of legal adulthood — such as drinking alcohol — start at 21.
The major reasons for extending the age of legal majority past biological maturity are both political and cultural. They include compulsory education in government-approved curricula to the age of 16 in most states, and cultural expectations of higher education for the affluent, which extend economic dependency on one’s parents often into one’s mid-twenties.
The words “adolescent” and “teenager” have no biological existence; they refer to legal definitions and social expectations.
Recognized adults find it difficult to regard today’s post-pubescent, pre-majority individual as a peer. We see today’s average teenager as subliterate or barely literate. They have no opinions that aren’t designed to fit into their peer group. They have little self-esteem and even less self-control. They’re sexually obsessed and don’t know how to deal with the emotional turmoil this brings on. They’re obsessed with trivia and frivolity; are financially and emotionally dependent on parents who are resented for being needed; are incapable of thinking independently and in abstract, time-conditional terms; and are constantly finding new ways to test their survival. In today’s relativistic climate, they are often completely amoral.
Given such a wretched subculture, we’re not surprised that teen suicide is high, that teen murderers are increasingly common, and that youth gangs don’t even have the decency to rumble; they just do drive-by shootings.
It’s also not surprising that thoughtful people express concerns about allowing such a class to have firearms.
Such concerns, however, were also made about the freed slaves in the postbellum South. White Southerners looked upon them as immature, dependent, illiterate, and unsuited for full citizenship. The first gun-control laws in this country were passed to require black freedmen permission from white officials to own or carry arms.
The question of “kids and guns” is at the forefront of the gun-control debate today. Handgun Control, Inc., in its literature, defines a “child” as a person nineteen or under, in order to obtain statistics that show that “children” are dying from gunfire out of proportion to the rest of society. If an 18-year-old “gangsta” Crip shoots a 17-year-old Blood from a moving car, Handgun Control would classify that as a child shooting a child.
When 13-year-old gang members must “make their bones” — commit a murder — in order to be given a share of the proceeds from lucrative drug sales … when “teenage” pregnancy, AIDS, and junior-high-campus distribution of condoms are political issues … when courts are lowering the age when a “child” may be held answerable as an adult for a felony to as low as twelve, the discrepancy between our culture’s picture of childhood and reality is highlighted.
The question of how to turn the irresponsible child into the responsible adult is likewise dependent on whether even a grown-up in our social order is to be treated as an adult. Our society is increasingly paternalistic in its politics. Our drug laws presume that we cannot make rational decisions about what chemicals we may ingest; government assumes the parental role of both prescribing and proscribing.
Our consumer-protection and business-regulatory laws presume that we as individuals, or even in private groups, are incompetent to prevent ourselves from being swindled; government assumes the parental role of deciding for us who is trustworthy to do business with.
Isn’t it obvious that the object of the Nanny State is to breed a culture of permanent juveniles? And isn’t it equally obvious that the extension of legal and cultural childhood to years past puberty is the main mechanism for accomplishing the disempowerment and trivialization of the adult population?
Today we have public schools where armed 14-year-old gangsters run protection shakedowns on their fellow students. The shakedowns are enforced with lessons in schoolyard shootings of those who resist. If non-gang student victims decide that their lives are threatened and choose to arm themselves in defense, our modern defender of the children would disarm them and leave them at the mercy of their criminal peers.
It is, perhaps, too much to expect our society to allow its young adults their citizenship rights, when even their parents are denied many of theirs. But is it too much to ask for simple consistency?
Whatever age society says is old enough to be held answerable for a crime must be the same age society calls the age of legal majority. If one is old enough to be tried for murder, one is old enough to defend one’s life from murderers. If one is old enough to see one’s comrades die on a battlefield, fighting for one’s country, one is old enough to buy a drink to drown out the memory. If one is old enough to be handed a condom in the school entranceway, it is old enough to decide to marry.
And while it’s no certainty, human history suggests that a biological adult, when granted both adult rights and responsibilities, just might start acting like one.
Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is Instead of Crime and Punishment
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