MEDFORD, Ore.– A lawsuit filed in Jackson County Court yesterday is claiming Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart are breaking Oregon law by refusing to sell guns to people under 21.
20-year-old Tyler Watson may be the first young adult in the nation to challenge recent policy changes at both retailers, who increased the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.
It’s a lawsuit that could have big implications. Watson, who lives in Gold Hill, had his attorney speak on his behalf about his suing of the two national retailers over gun policies and age discrimination.
“The companies have the right to refuse service unless that refusal is based on a discriminatory reason,” said Max Whittington, Watson’s attorney.
Detailed in the lawsuit, Watson attempted to purchase a .22 caliber Ruger rifle from Field & Stream in Medford on February 24. There an employee denied to sell him any firearm, stating new company policy that prevented people under 21 from purchasing firearms or ammunition of any kind.
However, this all happened four days before the retailer announced it’s policy of not selling firearms or ammunition to those under 21.
The next Saturday, Watson tried again, this time at the Walmart in Grants Pass, but was denied there as well.
“They refused to sell him a rifle,” said Whittington. “Legally, he is allowed to purchase a rifle but the companies have taken it upon themselves to raise the age to which they’ll sell those items. That’s illegal under Oregon law.”
According to Oregon law, currently residents 18 or older are allowed to purchase firearms such as rifles and shotguns. Whittington states that the retailers policies violate that law as well as violated Oregon statutes that defend residents against discrimination such as race, religion, ethnicity and age.
He argues because Oregon’s gun law allows anyone 18 or over to buy guns – the stores should too.
“Just because my client can purchase an item elsewhere doesn’t mean these companies don’t have a responsibility to comply with the statutory law that was enacted in this state,” said Whittington.
NBC5 reached out to Walmart for comment. In a statement, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company is standing by its policy and will defend it in court.
“In light of recent events, we reviewed our policy on firearm sales. 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. Once we are served with the complaint, we will respond as appropriate with the Court. ”
NBC5 also reached out to Dick’s Sporting Goods for comment but did not receive a response at this time.
The lawsuit has been getting mixed reaction locally on who has prerogative.
“The state should because it could just be an arbitrary decision by a business depending on what hangups they have,” said Marie Rezab, an Eagle Point resident. “We don’t like the way you look so we won’t sell you a gun.”
Medford resident Matthew Hoff felt differently.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I think, in the mean time, many people will go to local gun stores and look to them for business. Especially in light of all the stuff going on right now.”
Whittington says that he and his client haven’t been approached by the NRA or any other outside groups. They plan on fighting this out and are positive the outcome will be in their favor.
“I’m confident the law is in our favor,” said Whittington. “I think that Dick’s and Walmart are doing this for publicity, but they can’t violate Oregon law for publicity.”
The New York Times has recently reported that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries will be accepting complaints by those who believe to have been discriminated against by either Dick’s or Walmart’s new gun policy.
The Times reports Commissioner Brad Avakian says,
“His agency believes changing state law to add an age exemption for gun purchases would be “appropriate” to make public places safer.”
Plans to introduce a bill addressing this issue will be proposed by the bureau in the 2019 legislative session.