Tennessee ID’s Beer Buyers Regardless of Age

Tennessee now requires everyone to show an ID card to buy beer.

Comer Wilson hasn’t had to show his ID to buy beer in a while. Maybe it’s the 66-year-old man’s long white beard. Starting Sunday, gray hair won’t be good enough. Wilson and everyone else will be required to show identification before buying beer in Tennessee stores — no matter how old the buyer appears. “It’s the stupidest law I ever heard of,” Wilson said. “You can see I’m over 21.”

Tennessee is the first state to make universal carding mandatory, says the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. However, the law does not apply to beer sales in bars and restaurants, and it does not cover wine and liquor.

Supporters say it keeps grocery store and convenience store clerks from having to guess a customer’s age. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said it’s a good way to address the problems of underage drinking.


The blanket requirement makes it easier for stores to comply, said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. “There’s no need to judge whether someone looks 21, 25 or 30,” he said. “It’s a set, consistent standard across the entire state.”

This one’s a head scratcher. Not only is it ridiculous nanny statism but it doesn’t strike me as particularly effective, either. Why exclude wine and beer or bars and restaurants if it’s so important to keep alcohol away from kids? And what about fake IDs? Or teenagers who know 21-year-olds?

It’s silly enough that a 20-year-old can legally drink a beer. Let’s not compound that error with the ridiculous charade of carding 66-year-olds just to make sure that clerks with poor cognitive skills don’t accidentally sell beer to a somewhat-old-looking teenager.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. A few years ago the biggest grocery chain in Southeast Wisconsin imposed a similar policy. Everyone not matter the age would be carded when buying beer and alcohol. The silliness of it ticked me off, and I actually avoided buying adult beverages from them. That was until I got lazy and traded convenience for my opposition. The cost to show my ID is negligible since it’s always with me. Sometimes life is too short to gripe about everything.

  2. R. Alex says:

    Once you start carding everybody, you can start deciding who can and cannot buy alcohol at any age. There’s a decent chance in the future that an inability to buy alcohol will be part of sentencing for people convicted of drunk driving and public intoxication. This sort of thing won’t do it, of course (I have no idea why they make the exceptions that they do), but it’s a step in that direction.

  3. polystigma says:

    What about those who may not have valid ID.
    Is the state going to provide free ID’s to those who cannot afford them?
    Just doesnt seem fair, does it?
    Anyone remember those voter ID laws in some states that got shot down so quickly?
    Granted this is for proof of age, and not identity, but I dont see the difference.
    And what exactly is accepted as valid ID? Only state issued cards?

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    Dang, what about the right of an illegal alien who don’t got no I.D. and wants to get a nice cold six-pack after a hard day of picking lettuce?

  5. M. Murcek says:

    It’s the sort of “you don’t have to interpret it, you just have to mindlessly comply with it” that bureaucrats love…

  6. just me says:

    While I don’t think there is anything specifically evil about this kind of law, it is one that doesn’t make much sense to me.

    I just don’t see how it is going to much as far as it what it says the goal of the law is-which is to curb underage drinking. Shoot the majority of underage purchases when I was a teenager were done by getting legally aged siblings/friends/aquaintences to purchase the alcohol-and of course the fake ID-I don’t see this law doing much to stop or prevent either.

  7. Uncle Pinky says:

    It’s the sort of “you don’t have to interpret it, you just have to mindlessly comply with it” that bureaucrats love…

    Posted by M. Murcek

    Ding Ding Ding!

    It is a test case to see how far bureaucratic authority can impinge on everyday citizens without citizen complaint. Limit and boundary testing, envelope nudging and passive-aggressive cussedness.

    As with taxation, extracting the maximum amount of milk with the minimum amount of moo is the goal. Everytime I argued that nanny-statism was the thin edge of the wedge my arguments were dismissed as alarmist. Try smoking or cooking with trans-fats in New York and then tell me that slippery slope reasoning is unfounded.

  8. Diane C. Russell says:

    Is it just nanny statism–or is it the beginning of police statism?

    Once the serfs accept this, how long will it be until they are told to produce papers for other purchases. And eventually for all purchases.

    Within my lifetime, Americans thought it was terrible that Hitler and Stalin had police checking on everyone. Now they seem to think it is a good idea. Why are we so willing to sacrifice our freedoms?

  9. I have a foot in both the “it’s a sacrifice of freedom” camp and the “it’s ineffective because it doesn’t apply to bars or bourbon” camp. Two reasons to dislike legislation–it’s double the fun!

  10. Tennessee also instated a substantial cigarette tax on the same day and I agree it is the nanny-state inching its way into our lives and pockets. The smokers have been demonized for so long it was easy to slip through a tax on them. But they are coming for us all, drinkers, the obese, anyone they can point a finger at and claim are not paying their fair share.