16 August 2011

Beer Runs v. Beer Stings - Which Better Keeps Beer Out of the Hands of Minors?

I used to work in retail outlets that sold beer and wine.  I can tell you the minors have always tried to get beer.  whether it's the fake ID from "Texas Department of Identification", or getting strangers to buy their beer, or just hoping that the clerk will be too busy to ID them, or staging a beer run (a quick "Grand and Go" theft where a minor runs in grabs beer and runs out), minors try just about anything to get the forbidden fruit.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commissionroutinely uses stings to catch retailers who sell beer to minors.
We can debate the ethics of these stings all day long (I believe it is entrapment, others believe it's a way to make sure retailers (the clerk loses their jobs when ticketed) won't sell to minors.)

The goal, of course, is to keep alcohol out of the hands of people deemed too young to purchase it.  (And we can debate that subject all day long, as well.)

So who does the state (in a generic sense) target for enthusiastic prosecution?  The retailer.

Most of the time, police won't even do much investigating of a beer run beyond looking at surveillance videos, according to Reno convenience store operators. (The article suffers from a bit of bad editing.  It identifies one business owner (Jim Linscott), but quotes someone named Miller.)  Miller, who has identified the thieves responsible for the beer runs in his store, cannot get the police to arrest them, but they frequently set up stings to see if he sells beer to minors.  "What's the bottom line? Is the bottom line catching us selling alcohol to minors or is it keeping kids from getting alcohol. We think it should be keeping kids from getting alcohol."

The bottom line, unfortunately, is money.  The police know the stores will fire the employee (who has to pay a fine) and pay the store fines just to keep their license, which is more cost effective than chasing down teenagers.  In every legislative session, the State of Texas makes it more illegal to sell beer to minors.  But there are few bills making it more illegal for minors to steal or possess beer.  It's like they think retailers are heartless, evil beings whose only purpose in life is to put beer in your kids' hands.

I know law enforcement does ticket minors for possession of alcohol.  But the penalties for them seem to be a lot lighter.

(To show the effects of a misdemeanor on a person's life, here's the story of Cleo Hill. He'd like to be a nurse, but a misdemeanor from his youth prevents it.  I have a friend who lost his commercial truck license because he sold beer to a minor during a sting at his part-time job.)

I'm not sure what the solution is.  We do need to stop retailers from selling to minors.  But shouldn't we also hold the minors accountable as well?

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posted by Jeff Holt at 10:40

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