First there was Oregon, where 20-year-old Tyler Watson filed suit against Walmart and Dick’s for refusing to sell him a rifle. That practice would appear to violate the state’s public accommodation law. Now a Michigan teen is taking a swing at Dick’s, too.
A high school senior in Battle Creek, 18-year-old Triston Fulton visited the Dick’s store in Oakland Mall in Troy to buy a rifle but when he showed his ID, he wasn’t even allowed to look at a rifle. A Dick’s worker told him that was the policy.
Apparently neither Dick’s or Walmart considered the age discrimination angle of their new polices before trumpeting them to the world in an attempt to mollify anti-gunners and announce how woke they now are in the wake of the Parkland massacre.
But as UCLA professor Eugene Volokh wonders,
Doesn’t Dick Sporting Goods have a legal department? I’d think a company with stores nationwide would realize that age discrimination might be illegal in some states, would quickly review what those states might be, and would then simply set up a policy that excludes them.
True, the companies are presumably trying to make a public statement with their no-gun-sales-to-under-21-year-olds policy; but that statement shouldn’t be much diluted by an exception for some states when the explanation for the exception is that they have to comply with the law. And now the news is shifting to “Dick’s Sporting Goods being sued for illegal discrimination” instead of “Dick’s Sporting Goods is taking a stand to try to prevent gun crime,” which was presumably Dick’s goal.
Why let little details like prevailing laws get in the way of conspicuous corporate virtue signaling?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry’s trade association, sent out an email blast letting its members know that there are nine states plus the District of Columbia with public accommodation laws that could present a problem for any gun seller planning to impose an arbitrary 21-and-up gun sales policy.
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, tragedy, a few federally licensed firearms retailers (FFLs) have adopted a corporate policy to refuse to sell certain products, e.g. long guns, modern sporting rifles, standard-sized magazines and ammunition, to otherwise eligible adult customers aged 18 to 20.
NSSF respects the right of individual businesses to make their own decisions about what is appropriate for their business. 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.
For more information about what states have laws against age discrimination, see our fact sheet here.
Of course, any age discrimination suits in these states would be rendered moot if the states change their laws to prohibit sales to individuals under 21 as Florida appears about to do. Unfortunately for Mr. Watson, Oregon probably won’t be far behind.