You have to be 16 to get a driver’s license, because there’s no more likely way for a teenager to get killed than on the road.
You have to be 54 inches or taller to ride an Autopia car alone at Disneyland, at a speed of 7 mph, because presumably anyone smaller than that stature is not strong or wise enough to safely handle the vehicle, even though it runs on a track and has a lawn mower for an engine.
You have to be 18 to vote, because having a say in electing our public servants is one of the most significant rights we hold as Americans and should not be taken lightly, not that this will preserve us from suffering through the bona fide election of unscrupulous troglodytes from time to time.
You have to be 17 to get into a rated-R movie, because apparently that is the age at which teenagers are finally mature enough to handle seeing a bare breast, depictions of drug use or a little more blood than is allowed in a PG-13 movie, though still well below what they see in video games, on cable TV and on the Internet.
You have to be at least 35 to run for president of the United States, because we expect that minimum level of life experience before someone can take on the most powerful position in the world.
You have to be 13 to open an account on Facebook, because of federal online privacy restrictions that establish just when you are old enough to have your personal information wantonly harvested for commercial use.
You generally have to be 25 to rent a car without paying a hefty additional fee, because what smart, profit-minded corporation is going to let inexperienced, possibly drunk, likely underinsured punks with no net worth roll around in nearly new $25,000 automobiles?
You have to be 21 to put a quarter in a slot machine at a Las Vegas casino, under the presumption that those of a younger age are not yet mature enough to withstand gambling’s siren call without emptying their bank accounts.
You have to be 21 to drink a beer, because young adults can’t be trusted to enjoy alcohol without getting wasted and running around doing stupid stuff, even though they’ll find a method to get the beer and do it anyhow.
You have to be 18 to join the U.S. military, because it apparently takes less mental fortitude and emotional stability to kill a person on a foreign battlefield than it does to figure out how to handle the buzz from a few Silver Bullets.
Got all that? Now get this. You have to be 8 to shoot a gun at the White Hills, Ariz., range where an ill-equipped girl in braids and pink shorts lost control of a fully automatic Uzi last week and killed her instructor with an errant round to the head.
And yet will this latest tragedy result in some kind of sensible legislation that can protect children and the rest of us from unnecessary death and maiming by a military-grade firearm in the hands of someone without the emotional or physical strength to manage it?
If the silence from the NRA is any indication, you can bet not. Because the selfish ideologues who run that organization will never give an inch on this issue lest we move an inch closer to someone taking away their guns, even though that possibility is so many figurative miles away as to be rendered a mirage — meaningless, nonexistent and no threat whatsoever.
It is this simple: In a civilized society, we create rules to protect our most vulnerable members from risks they are unable to safely handle.
We do this thoughtfully and reasonably, and we are better for it.
We do it thoughtfully and reasonably, except when it comes to guns, where we are regularly uncivilized to indefensible and downright stupid lengths.
A man is dead.
A child is scarred.
We are a lesser nation for it.
Is it too much to ask that we keep weapons of war out of the hands of children? I’m afraid the answer is inexplicably, tragically, mournfully yes.