Well that didn’t take long. Tyler Watson of southern Oregon heard the news that both Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart had decided to implement their own 21-and-up age requirement to purchase a long gun after the retailers came under pressure from anti-gun groups and their willing stenographers in the media following the Parkland shooting. So the 20-year-old strolled into both companies’ stores and tried to buy a rifle. He was turned down.
According to his lawsuit against Dick’s Sporting Goods, Watson went into a Medford Field & Stream, which is owned by the company, Saturday, Feb. 24 and asked to buy a .22-caliber Ruger 10/22 rifle. The clerk denied the sale because Watson was under 21.
Watson’s lawsuit against Walmart says he went into its store in Grants Pass on Saturday, March 3 and asked to buy a rifle but was denied because he was under 21.
Of course, it’s perfectly legal for anyone who’s at least 18 years old buy a long gun. But the civilian disarmament industrial complex has very effectively cranked up a post-Parkland campaign designed to push a new “assault weapons” ban, universal background checks and, of course, hiking the age for any gun purchase to 21.
For now anyway, federal and Oregon laws still allow anyone who’s at least 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun. So is it kosher for a retailer to refuse to sell a legal item to someone who’s at least 18 but under 21?
Lewis and Clark Law Professor Tung Yin said last week it’s perfectly legal for a business to set an age limit higher than the law.
“We recognize there are certain categories where it’s wrong to single people out. Race, gender, religion, national origin, and depending on the state, sexual orientation,” said Yin. “But age has never really been one of those.”
Oregon’s public accommodation law covers age restrictions as they pertain to marijuana sales and senior discounts, but say nothing about self-imposed seller age restrictions for other items. Then again, I’m not an attorney. So let’s consult UCLA school of law professor Eugene Volokh:
There are plausible arguments to be made about whether laws banning discrimination in public accommodations are generally a good idea, whether laws banning discrimination in retail sales are generally a good idea (federal law, for instance, doesn’t apply to most retail stores), whether laws banning discrimination in retail sales based on age are generally a good idea (most states don’t ban such discrimination), whether there ought to be exemptions to such laws for 18-to-20-year-olds, whether there ought to be exemptions to such laws for 18-to-20-year-olds who want to buy guns, and more. Those would be plausible arguments to make to state legislatures.
But this case isn’t a common-law tort case, or a constitutional case, in which courts make decisions about what should or shouldn’t be covered — it’s a case applying this particular statute in this particular state. And under this statute, the case seems open and shut for the plaintiff and against Dick’s.
Pop some popcorn and keep an eye on this.