By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week, Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they won’t sell guns or ammunition to anyone under 21. It used to be 18.

So, where did these particular age limits come from? Good Question.

Human brains don’t fully develop until the mid-20s, but Americans can vote at 18, drink at 21 and rent a car at 25.

“I feel like that’s pretty arbitrary,” said Abe Hunter of Minneapolis.

Age 21 used to be the standard age limit for most activities in the U.S. According to John Wall, a professor of ethics at Rutgers University, the 21 number is borrowed from philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Aquinas who defined it as the age of maturity.

Rentals cars have the easiest answer. According to Dollar, traffic data shows drivers under 25 are much more likely to get into accidents. (At some companies, drivers can pay an extra “Young Drivers” fee to rent a car.)

Until 1971, the U.S. voting age was 21. It was lowered to 18 with the 26th Amendment, which happened during the Vietnam War, when people argued “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote.”

Many childhood development experts believe 18 became the magic number because that’s when most students graduate from high school.

According to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), young people did come out to vote right after the passage of the Amendment.

“It looks like there was in fact a surge in 1972, followed by a decline, which seems to have set a pattern since then,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE.

In 2006, 37 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds voted versus 58 percent of the overall voting population.

The drinking age in the U.S. went up to 21 in 1984 after President Reagan signed a law that would withhold highway funds from states that didn’t raise the age.

Experts say the increase in the drinking age led to a drop in alcohol-related traffic deaths and a decline in the consumption of alcohol for 18- to 20-year-olds. Others have argued the law has increased binge and heavy drinking.


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