An Oregon man has hauled two major sporting goods retailers into court, claiming they have violated the state’s discrimination laws after they refused to sell him a rifle due to his age.
Tyler Watson, 20, filed suit in a state court against both Dick’s and Walmart arguing the stores, who sell sporting goods to include firearms to the general public, specifically refused to sell him a rifle because he was under age 21, citing recently adopted company policies.
According to court documents, Watson tried to buy a Ruger 10/22 from a Field & Stream store, owned by Dick’s, in Medford on Feb. 24 and was refused due to his age. Last week, Watson doubled-down by going to a Walmart in Grant’s Pass, where he was similarly rebuffed for the same reason.
While federal regulators advise licensed gun dealers they can, and should, exercise their right to refuse potentially unlawful firearms transactions, Watson is taking the big box stores to court over Oregon’s discrimination statutes where the case may hold some legal water.
Jim Hargreaves, a retired county judge in the state, told Willamette Week that Oregon law states that as long as a person is an adult, they can’t be refused something based on age that’s ordinarily available to other adults.
“They [sellers] can’t set their own age limit because the statute has already done that,” Hargreaves said. “They don’t have any authority because the statute specifically says you can’t as a merchant discriminate against either young people or old people. If you’re selling something you have to sell it to anyone who is entitled to buy it by law.”
Attorney Joshua Prince similarly warns that age-based policies adopted by merchants in gun sales could run afoul of discrimination laws in Pennsylvania while legal analyst Colin Kalmbacher at Law and Crime points out that as many as 19 states and jurisdictions have enshrined protections against unlawfully discriminating against customers based on age.
Max Whittington, Watson’s attorney in the Oregon lawsuits, said they may be the first of their kind filed in the country.
As for Walmart, a spokesman for the retailer told Oregon Live they are standing behind their policy, despite the legal action.