Keep state drinking age at 21

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By The Staff

State Rep. Fletcher Smith believes the state's drinking laws should be changed to allow anyone who is in the military to buy alcoholic drinks. Smith, a Democrat from Greenville, has introduced a bill in the state House that would allow a service member under 21 to show his or her military identification card to a bartender or store clerk to buy alcoholic beverages.

Smith makes a strong argument for lowering the drinking age for those who are in the military. "They've proven they're adults," Smith reportedly told The State newspaper in Columbia. "They have the maturity that an average 18-year-old wouldn't have."

We agree the military is the fast track to maturity. If you've ever had a loved one or friend join the military, you probably noticed a striking change in their demeanor by the time they graduated from basic training. Gone is the child you sent away.

Smith reportedly wrote his proposal after hearing a 20-year-old Marine who served in Iraq complain how he'd risked his life overseas but wasn't able to buy a drink when he got home to the United States.

We sympathize with the Marine. He believes he's earned the right to buy a drink for himself. We'd agree that his maturity likely surpasses that of his 20-year-own counterparts who haven't been in the military.

We also understand that this Marine has probably had opportunities to legally drink in a number of other countries, where the drinking laws aren't as strict as they are in the United States, which probably has the strictest drinking laws in the world. We know it's a bitter pill for him to swallow when he comes home and can't have a drink if he wants one.

But we don't think Smith's bill has much chance of passing, and we don't think it should.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is against the proposal, citing public support of keeping the drinking age at 21 and data that show a decrease in highway deaths since the drinking age was raised in most states in the mid-1980s. Most states raised the the legal age from 18 to 21 then to comply with federal law.

If South Carolina had not raised the drinking age then, it would have lost federal highway funding.

If Smith's current proposal passes, the state would risk losing 10 percent of its $287 million in federal road money received in 2007. That's another reason why this bill won't get far.

Smith's proposal would also create enforcement hassles for business owners and law enforcement if the legal age to consume alcohol was different for different people.

As strongly as we agree with Smith's argument that members of the military have proven they are adults, we can't support his bill.

The state's drinking age needs to remain uniform.