I was driving around today and listening to WGAU during the 9:00 hour. The subject was drinking, which as we all know, has become the issue du jour in the last few weeks. Host Elizabeth Dalton had a bevy of current UGA students on the show, and I’ve got to tell you folks, it’s really interesting to see how this issue has evolved, even over the last few weeks.
Right now, playing the blame game is all the rage. Some folks in the UGA administration are blaming the local government for a lack of enforcement downtown. Folks in the community are blaming UGA for not keeping their students under control, whatever that means. People all over the place are blaming the bar owners downtown for serving underage drinkers – a position that is ridiculous, and probably exaggerated.
Problem is, no one is blaming the people who are actually at fault: immature, irresponsible college students. The University of Georgia is not these students’ mommy or daddy. Society presumes that if you make it through four years of high school and jump through the necessary hoops to get to college, then you’re supposed to be a reasonable, rational adult.
The local government could do more for enforcement, to be sure. But ask yourself this: Would you rather focus the limited resources of the ACCPD on keeping 18-year-olds from getting into the Allgood, or would you rather the men and women in blue be out on the streets keeping them from driving home drunk? Perhaps (heaven forbid) the cops could even be doing something about the growing gang problem in ACC?
And what about the bars? Well, to put the bar owners on the gallows for serving underage drinkers is popular, but remember the first rule of economics. Businesses enter the marketplace to increase profit. Business owners may have a social conscience – many in fact do – but businesses themselves operate for profit. It’s capitalism, and if you don’t like it, then move to North Korea.
You want to make it harder for bar owners to serve the under-21 set? Put more cops undercover and start handing out more fines. Of course, if you do, then be prepared to sacrifice enforcement in other areas, like DUI.
Even if you closed down every bar in Athens, you would still have incidents like the recent one with Lewis Fish. If an 18-year-old wants to drink, he or she is going to find a way to drink, probably through the assistance of a friend who is legal.
That same argument goes for every other straw man that gets thrown up for us to beat on. The ACCPD could put every officer they’ve got at the door of every bar and liquor store in town and check the ID of every person who wants to walk through the doors. It wouldn’t matter – you’d still have drunk 18-year-olds, and occasionally one of them will drink to excess and die.
The problem is not bar owners, or the local government, or the University. It’s social, it’s cultural, and it isn’t going to change overnight. It’s immature kids, a few months out of high school, on their own for the first time, and feeling invincible.
So, when someone can come up with real solutions to the drankin’ problem, we’ll be more than happy to listen. But until they do, we’re going to continue to write the “problem” off to a fundamental lack of personal responsibility, and something that isn’t going to change anytime soon. And we’re going to keep saying, perhaps too bluntly, that everybody involved needs to grow up – including the Chicken Littles who think the alcoholic sky is falling in ACC.