Commenter “Mike” responds to my argument that reintroducing 3.1% beer is missing the point:
The premise is that college students are first and foremost lazy, and like to avoid misdemeanor charges when possible too.
If you make it so a kid can either legally walk into a gas station and buy a 30 rack of light beer, or pay $100 for a fake ID and sweat his way through an ABC store… the majority will choose the former. It’s easier and safer and could let kids learn how to handle their sauce before they start taking jack to the face. Sure, people will still skirt the law sometimes, but this would at least help.
But the issue isn’t that most kids are sweating their way through ABC stores, they’re just having older students buy their booze, or going to parties where it’s readily available. I just don’t see how the introduction of 3.1% beer would change any of that.
On another note, the issue that it would let them learn how to “handle their sauce” seems a bit off as well. In other words, you have to get drunk sometime. Perhaps there is a healthy physiological response that 3.1% beer fosters that allows drinkers to work their way up, but I think the reality of this situation is that even if you assume the law works (which I think is not a safe assumption), you’d probably quickly hit a wall where you’re not happy with your level of buzz — certainly faster than 3 years, anyhow, and we’d be left with the original problem.
UPDATE: Commenter “Mike” responds yet again, and probably hits the nail on the head (if inadvertently):
In europe, kids start at age 12 or so with watered down wine. This [3.1% beer] is something like that.
The salient issue with binge drinking and alcohol abuse on college campuses is cultural. I’m not naive enough to think that binge drinking is limited to American campuses, but the difference is that in America there’s probably a greater likelihood that these introductory binges will cause damage because some students just don’t have enough experience with alcohol. It’s not clear how prominently the drinking age figures in this, but it’s probably safe to assume it contributes. That said, the answer isn’t giving these students less alcoholic drinks, but making sure they have enough experience with alcohol to be more responsible. This means taking a bit more of a European approach, and introduce alcohol in the home with parents in responsible amounts. This might sound like heresy to America’s strangely arbitrary puritanical instincts (e.g., PG-13 movies with tremendously disturbing violence, R-rated comedies with the word “fuck”.), but the difference between dangerous binge drinking and less dangerous binge drinking is usually a question of experience.
UPDATE II: I’m uncomfortable with the amount of speculation I make in this post. FYI.