In response to the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, some retailers have modified their policies on firearms sales. Several, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger (which owns Fred Meyer), L.L. Bean, and Walmart, raised their minimum age for gun purchases to 21. In the Parkland attack, the 19-year-old gunman used an AR-15 that he had bought legally.
Now both Dick’s and Walmart are being sued by Tyler Watson, a 20-year-old Oregon man who claims the stores engaged in age discrimination by refusing to sell him a rifle. Oregon law allows residents ages 18 years or older to buy shotguns and rifles. Watson’s case and a similar lawsuit filed in Michigan by an 18-year-old raise questions about whether retailers can legally impose higher age limits on firearms purchases than those in state law.
20-year-old Oregonian sues Dick’s, Walmart
In one suit, Watson says he tried to buy a .22-caliber Ruger rifle at Field & Stream, which is owned by Dick’s, in Medford, Oregon on February 24. A separate lawsuit says that on March 3, a Walmart in Grants Pass, Oregon also refused to let him purchase a rifle. Both stores cited their policy not to sell firearms to buyers under 21 years old.
Tyler’s suits seek punitive damages as well as forcing the chains to allow gun sales to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.
In a letter to state legislative leaders this week, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries said that the bureau would accept complaints from residents who feel that they have been discriminated against by retailers’ policies.
Oregon’s law prohibits age discrimination by retailers for those 18 and older, with exceptions for alcohol and marijuana sales. Bureau Commissioner Brad Avakian said that the bureau intends to present a bill to the state Legislature next year to add a similar age restriction for gun sales.
A Walmart spokesman said the retailer plans to defend the new policy, and, if law professor Tung Yin of the Lewis & Clark Law School is right, they seem likely to prevail. Medford’s CBS affiliate quotes Yin as saying, “We recognize there are certain categories where it’s wrong to single people out. Race, gender, religion, national origin, and depending on the state, sexual orientation, but age has never really been one of those.”