At What Age, If Ever, Are We Adults Now?

In July of 1971, President Richard Nixon signed off on a new constitutional amendment, mercifully named with a number instead of a slogan, that lowered the voting age nationwide from 21 to 18. The 26th (and last, as of this date) Amendment was passed using the constitutional process that mandates states vote on an amendment passed out of Congress.

The 26th Amendment was scheduled for a vote in every state and passed in record time in the early months of 1971. The Democrat-controlled US Senate vote in favor was unanimous. President Nixon, a Republican, signed it into law. The 26th Amendment was a bipartisan affair that reads: 

Section 1.– The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.

Section 2.– The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

US Constitution

Lowering the voting age was predicated on a simple idea: if 18-year-old men could be conscripted into the military, given a weapon, and sent to war where they might kill or be killed, they had the right to vote on their leadership. The war in Vietnam had claimed the lives of over 50,000 mostly young men by 1971 and so their ability to vote on the politicians that mandated the war was a burning national question. The Voting Rights Act, which addressed the ability of minorities to vote, had been passed just a few years before. Extending the ‘franchise’ was a national cultural priority. 

Also, by 1971, the massive Baby Boom generation was reaching the age of 18 en masse, and politicians wanted them to vote as soon as possible because the period we are still in, the era of Boomer-dominated politics, was at hand. 

Said Nixon at the signing ceremony: 

“The reason I believe that your generation, the 11 million new voters, will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose, that this country always needs.”

Richard Nixon, July 1971

Those were likely the last words of praise from a president for the Boomers and the last age in which it was thought the even younger people could be considered responsible enough to grant additional rights. By1984, the sentiment had passed, and the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed. Age 21 was set as the national minimum legal drinking age, and now, all 50 states require one to be 21 or older to purchase alcohol. 

There are now calls, from nearly every quarter, to increase the age at which a young person can purchase a firearm. As it stands, we have one age to determine when one can join the military, elect a president, and, at least in Texas, buy a gun and another age at which one can buy a beer. The 26th Amendment set in stone the right to vote at 18, and so 18 is the benchmark for other rights of citizenship which includes the provisions of the 2nd Amendment. 

The 2nd Amendment reads: 

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

US Constitution

So, a legal citizen has the right to bear arms courtesy of the 2nd, and the implied right to do so beginning at age 18 courtesy of the 26th. These rights don’t vary by the individual unless there are extreme mitigating circumstances. No one determines if a person is smart enough to understand the consequence of their vote at any age. The same logic holds with the purchase of a firearm. This begs the important question; when are we grown up enough for any rights? Are some people just not grown up enough to hold important rights regardless of their age? Did the ages mean something different in the past?

Enter now two Texans: recently deceased Salvador Ramos, and Democrat perennial candidate Robert Francis O’Rourke


Salvador Ramos was born in North Dakota but went to high school in Uvalde, Texas. He was a troubled kid with no criminal history. 

Many who knew him have publicly stated that he was not a happy, well-adjusted individual. Nevertheless, having no criminal record, when he turned 18, he was eligible to vote and purchase a firearm. He never voted (and never will), but shortly after his birthday, he bought two rifles, each with semiautomatic capability, and he purchased many rounds. Guns are potent symbols of power to boys that feel powerless. Only a few days later, he shot his grandmother and proceeded to randomly kill 19 entirely innocent children at an elementary school. With his weapons and arsenal, he held some many police officers at bay inside the school. Nearly an hour later, Border Patrol agents with specialized equipment entered the school and killed Ramos. 

In the 18 years between 2004 when Ramos was born and May of 2022, he did not mature into a young man capable of voting, drinking, or owning a gun. It has been reported that he was unhappy with his social situation, but never was his life in danger. The guns he bought were not for his protection, or for hunting. The law in Texas has been that those who have reached the age of 18 can buy a firearm, which has been the law for decade upon decade, but men like Ramos buying a firearm and committing mass murder at a school is a recent phenomenon.

Clearly, something has changed. Our culture is not producing mature men at the same rate as in the past. Age 18 was different when work, school, media, and social life was different. Was an isolated young man like Ramos even possible in 1940? Or were there young men like him in 1960? There are many young men like him now.

Grown Men

Salvador Ramos is dead; he was killed by Border Patrol agents in the classroom where he killed so many children. The current Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, as well as other officials, convened a press conference in Uvalde after Salvador Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers, and it is here that Robert Francis O’Rourke decided to make an appearance. O’Rourke, also known by the vaguely Latin nickname “Beto,” approached the desk where Abbott and other officials were sitting and accused Abbott of being complicit in the murders committed by Ramos. 

This is totally predictable,” O’Rourke said of the shootings before accusing Abbott of not doing enough to prevent the predictable. He thinks the law should change to ban certain kinds of guns but has not been very specific on which ones, and under what law or pretext.

It seems unlikely that O’Rourke would campaign for the repeal of the 26th Amendment, and unlikely he will call for the voting age to be raised to 21 or 25, or whatever age he thinks young people are mature enough to vote. His appeal is built, in large measure, on his relative ‘youth’ and his appeal to ‘younger voters.’ And yet, O’Rourke is also not campaigning to repeal the 2nd Amendment, and so the contradiction remains; under the law, you can buy a firearm before you can buy alcohol, and young men that are highly unstable, young men like Salvador Ramos, can buy weapons legally that they are not responsible enough to own. These are serious problems. “Beto” has a point, and so does Greg Abbott. Abbott has stated that something has changed. If something has changed, at what age is it safe to sell guns to young men? It is 18 now, and clearly, this path leads occasionally to horrific tragedy. 

If we assumed that none of these Amendments existed, at what age would we assign any of these rights? Are young people responsible voters at age 18? I don’t think so. Are any of them waiting until they are 21 to drink alcohol? I certainly didn’t. At what age and under what condition should one be able to buy a weapon, and should there be any pre-qualifications, such as safety training, or a mental health evaluation? I would certainly say yes but such regulations are politicized quickly. There are those that want to disarm the public completely. There is no trust in lawmakers to pass laws restricting gun ownership because occasionally, they let is slip that the real goal is a European-style total ban on personal firearms.

Salvador Ramos was a sad individual who bought a gun legally and killed kids, and so, naturally, there is a search for a way to keep firearms away from such troubled young men. But what of the young men who aren’t considered ‘unstable’ or ‘troubled’ but are killing kids with gun they bought illegally?

Here is but a tiny sample of the dead kids killed by illegal firearms in 2020 as chronicled by Heather McDonald

A 9-year-old girl was killed Oct. 3 during a family gathering in a park in Sacramento, Calif.

A 3-year-old boy in Orlando was fatally shot in the head while playing in his living room on Sept. 22, when a passing car sprayed bullets at the front door and windows of the home.

A 1-year-old boy in Kansas City, Mo., was killed Sept. 21 when someone walked up to the car in which he was riding and riddled it with bullets. The victim, Tyron Patton, was among the 13 children who had been killed in shootings through late September in Kansas City.

A 7-year-old girl was killed on Aug. 29 while at a family birthday party in South Bend, Ind.; the assailants were shot from a passing car.

An 11-year-old girl was shot in the head in an SUV in Madison, Wis., on the morning of Aug. 11; two days later, her family took her off of life support.

A 7-year-old boy was shot in the head while sitting on his family’s front porch in West Philadelphia on the morning of Aug. 11. The boy died two days later.

1-year-old Ace Lucas was killed in his bed in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 1; his twin brother sleeping next to him was wounded.

9-year-old Devonte Bryant was killed with a shot to his head in New Orleans on July 14.

A 1-year-old boy in a stroller was killed by a shot to the stomach at a cookout in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, on July 12;

At least eight children were killed in drive-bys nationally over the 2020 Fourth of July weekend, including 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, who was in a car with her mother in Atlanta trying to inch past a barricade illegally erected by Black Lives Matter protesters.

And so it goes on, week after week, death after death, with no solutions offered other than calls for more laws in places that already have laws no one follows. Only the police could fix this problem by enforcing the law, but they are under siege and not going to take additional risks. While Ramos was still in a classroom with dead, dying, and a few live kids, the police waited in the hallway. Finally, Border Patrol agents forced their way into the room and killed Ramos. When kid lives were on the line, ‘officer safety’ was the overriding concern. Would police officers just 20 years ago have made the same call?

The fact is, our culture had changed. Very few young men these days are ready for any serious responsibility at 18. The solution is cultural, like so many other things. Strong and good men raise strong boys to be strong and good men, and such men can own weapons, vote, drink, marry, parent, and do good in the world. Less such men, we flounder.  Ramos was from a poor family and there is no evidence of a strong male figure in his life. No one coached him up to male adulthood. Press reports are laden with accusations that he was “evil,” but the problem isn’t so mysterious. He was lost and angry. A young man just like him will be heard from in due course until our culture finds a place for him, and politicians like “Beto” cease to view guns as a political opportunity. 

Beto at the press conference regarding the Uvalde shooter
Nixon signs the 26th Amendment