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COLUMN

Dwindling Rights for the Young

Michael J. Ring

Politicians are not usually the brightest of people, but the distances to which they are going to blame the entire teenage and young adult population for the recent school massacre in Littleton, Colorado is simply absurd. The minute percentage of teens who have committed these horrible crimes, these isolated, deranged loners, are apparently representative of our entire age segment in the eyes of many politicians. Enjoy your freedom while you have it, because several new limitations are on the way.

In an otherwise sensible package on gun control legislation, some slick genius has snuck in a little provision which treats 18, 19, and 20-year-olds as children. The pols down in Washington, from some Republicans in Congress to the Panderer-in-Chief, are lining up behind a proposal to raise the minimum age for handgun purchases from 18 to 21.

The irony of this situation is amazing. Keep in mind that there is still selective service registration at the age of 18. And they don’t fight with sticks and stones in the Army. So in the eyes of the President and his partners in crime, 18 is old enough to go shoot a gun in Kosovo but not in Kentucky.

There is merit in pursuing more restrictions, or even a total ban, on handgun possession. Murders and other violent crimes are much more of a rare occurrence in countries with stringent gun laws. And a ban on handguns need not interfere with the rights of Americans to own hunting rifles or sport pistols. However, to exclude a segment of the population from a privilege enjoyed by other adults based on the actions of a few monsters is age discrimination.

True, the drinking age in this country is 21, and some supporters of the age provision in the gun control bill naturally see parallels between the two. I wholeheartedly agree there are parallels; that is why the drinking age should be lowered as well. But that is a discussion for another day.

Conservative Republicans, unable and unwilling to acknowledge the role guns have played in recent school tragedies, love to kick the media instead. They whine about the allegedly gratuitous sex and violence, painting Hollywood as America’s answer to Sodom and Gomorrah. Their crazy entreaties are usually quite amusing -- until some mainstream moderate decides he or she can get political mileage out of some stupid, shortsighted proposal.

That’s exactly what happened this week when President Clinton, after huddling with executives of movie theater companies, announced that most major theater chains will now require photo identification in order to admit young adults to R-rated movies. That’s right: if you look younger than 21 and want to see an R-rated film, chances are you will be carded the next time you go to the box office.

Does anybody actually think this is going to work? I didn’t think so. Sixteen year-olds will find a way into the flicks. Fake IDs, using a friend employed at the theater to sneak in, having an older friend buy tickets -- the usual tactics will come out in force. And you can bet that production companies, knowing full well that teens are the freest of spenders at the box office, will be twisting the arm of the ratings board for PG-13 ratings.

And is it really such a bad thing that 15 or 16-year-olds see these movies? The overwhelming majority of people at that age are mature enough to know the difference between fact and fiction; to understand that the bloodletting in films is not to be repeated in real society. There are a few nuts at all ages who don’t understand that point, but still we let 50-year-olds into the movies unhindered and unimpeded. This is to say nothing of the sex and violence on TV, which is not affected by this regulation. And it doesn’t even look at the habits of European or Japanese teens, who enjoy similar (and, given the Americanization of world culture, often the very same) entertainment yet show much lower rates of violence and sociopathic behavior.

So what will be done about these discriminatory proposals? Nothing -- those of us under 18 can’t vote; those of us over 18 don’t vote. Unless our generation suddenly becomes willing to flex its political muscle, a trait for which it has never been known in the past, these infringements upon our rights and privileges are here to stay.