A 20-year-old Oregonian is suing Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart after their stores refused to sell him a rifle on the basis of his age.
Tyler Watson’s attorney Max Whittington told The Oregonian that his client’s age discrimination suit is the first of its kind to be filed in the country. The lawsuit argues that Dick’s and Walmart’s new age-based gun purchase restrictions violate state laws banning discrimination in “places of public accommodation” [emphasis mine]:
Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is of age, as described in this section, or older.
The exceptions to the law in subsection two specifically set apart alcohol and marijuana sales, which can be age-restricted because of state laws. The law does not mention gun sales as an exception.
Similar to most other states’ gun buying policies, Oregon allows residents who are 18 years of age or older to purchase rifles and shotguns.
Last Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods launched a national media campaign to pressure Congress to pass a wide-ranging list of highly restrictive gun control laws. Among other proposals, Dick’s called for completely banning “assault-style firearms” and “high-capacity magazines,” closing the “gun show loophole,” and raising the minimum federal gun buying age to 21. At the same time, Dick’s also announced that they would be complying with their gun control proposals in their own stores from then on.
On the same day, Walmart made a similar statement to Dick’s announcing restrictions on its sales of both actual firearms and airsoft toy guns. Importantly for this case, Walmart followed Dick’s lead in implementing a nationwide minimum gun purchasing age of 21 in its stores (Walmart has already had a self-imposed “assault weapons” ban since 2015).
According to Watson’s lawsuit, on February 24th, he walked into one of Dick’s stores with the intention of buying a Ruger .22 caliber rifle, but was prevented from purchasing the gun because he was only 20 years old. On the same day, Watson went to a Walmart store to try purchasing a gun again, but they refused him service too.
Strangely, Watson tried to make these purchases four days before Dick’s public gun control push and Walmart’s announcement, but the large chain stores’ policies were already apparently in effect.
Walmart told The Oregonian that it will defend its age limits on buying guns in court:
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Monday that the retailer will defend its new policy.
“In light of recent events, we reviewed our policy on firearm sales,” Hargrove said in an emailed statement. “As a result, we raised the age restriction for the purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. We stand behind our decision and plan to defend it. While we haven’t seen the complaint, we will respond as appropriate with the court.”