Gun sales: Oregon man sues Dick’s and Walmart for age discrimination
Within a week of retailers announcing gun sales bans on adults younger than 21, a lawsuit in Oregon is seeking to test those policies.
A 20-year-old Oregon man, Tyler Watson, filed lawsuits Monday arguing Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart discriminated against him because the businesses refused to sell him a rifle. Oregon allows residents to buy shotguns and rifles starting at age 18.
“As a general rule, a merchant is not required to sell to anyone,” said Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning, unless the buyer is covered under equal protection and the Civil Rights Act, and generally, age doesn’t fall under that. “Usually, a merchant will sell to any willing buyer, who stays within the law, but there’s no requirement to sell a gun to someone who is 18.”
But, he said, it’s less clear to him what is required of retailers under the Second Amendment.
The Oregon lawsuits, which are thought to be the first filed over the new gun policies, claim that a store owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods in Medford, Oregon, refused to sell Watson a .22-caliber Ruger rifle on Feb. 24. The suit says Grants Pass Walmart in Oregon refused to sell him a gun on March 3.
Watson is asking judges to force Dick’s and Walmart “to stop unlawfully discriminating against 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old customers at all Oregon locations.”
Watson also is seeking unspecified punitive damages.
In addition to Dick’s and Walmart, Kroger and L.L. Bean also announced they would no longer sell guns to anyone younger than 21 years old.
It’s unclear what — if any — effect Watson’s lawsuits will have on retailers that have decided to stop selling guns and ammunition following the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting deaths, and what lawsuits could be filed in other states.
It’s also unclear whether lawmakers could preempt legal wrangling by clarifying that issue.
But, the retailer’s moves almost immediately raised new legal questions about the liability retailers might have for selling guns to customers and whether there will be any lawsuits seeking to compel retailers to sell to teens who are old enough to buy a gun, but are prohibited by store policy.
A pending Supreme Court case that customers have pointed to involves the refusal of a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, and whether this was discrimination. In that case, gay rights and claims of religious freedom are in conflict.
It was argued before the court in December but the court has yet to issue an opinion.
Phillips said he would not make a cake for a same-sex couple because it clashed with his religious beliefs.
The customers filed a complaint with Colorado’s civil rights commission.
Henning said that, in his view, the Supreme Court case, while seemingly similar, is legally different because it is a refusal to provide service on the basis of a protected group, and age, which the gun policies are based on, is not protected.
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