NSSF: What gun dealers need to know about age-discrimination laws

The NSSF warned gun dealers about potential legal ramifications for banning rifle sales to customers under 21. (Photo: Ruger/Facebook)

The NSSF warned gun dealers about potential legal ramifications for banning rifle sales to customers under 21. (Photo: Ruger/Facebook)

The National Shooting Sports Foundation warned federally-licensed gun dealers considering limiting rifle sales to customers under 21 may face expensive legal action as a result.

The foundation represents 12,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers. In its fact sheet published Thursday, NSSF said many state and local governments adhere to “public accommodation” statutes barring age-based discrimination — which is why new corporate policies at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, for example, have already spawned lawsuits in Oregon.

“NSSF respects the right of individual businesses to make their own decisions about what is appropriate for their business,” the organization said. “However, in making the decision to refuse to sell to consumers based solely on their age, FFLs need to be aware that such a policy may violate state or local laws barring age discrimination and potentially subject them to civil lawsuits or civil enforcement actions.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods led a bandwagon of corporate backlash against “assault-style” rifles last week, announcing its decision to pull the firearms from all of its stores, including more than 30 Field and Stream locations. Remaining rifles would not be sold to anyone under 21, Chief Executive Officer Edward Stack announced last week.

“Some will say these steps can’t guarantee tragedies like Parkland will never happen again,” Stack said. “They may be correct – but if common sense reform is enacted and even one life is saved, it will have been worth it.”

Walmart, Kroger and L.L. Bean followed suit. The retailers’ voluntary policy change came after congressional leaders and the president, himself, floated the proposal as a reaction to the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida. The accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, murdered 17 former classmates and teachers with an AR-15, prompting many in favor of tougher gun laws to question why a teenager could buy a semiautomatic rifle.

Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, oppose the idea as discriminatory, effectively banning gun owners aged 18 to 20 from exercising their constitutional right.

The NSSF warns without comparable state or federal law restricting rifle sales based on age, gun dealers who willfully implement such rules “may be unwittingly opening themselves up to litigation and potential liability.”

Nine states enacted such age-based protections: Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee. Washington D.C. also bans age-discrimination policies, as well as local governments in Madison, Wisconsin and New York City. State government entities, including the Attorney General, in Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia may also take legal action against any retailers engaging in age-based discrimination.

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