We recently looked at the story of a 20-year-old Oregon man who is suing both Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods over their refusal to sell a .22 caliber rifle to him based on store policy rather than state or federal law. Will he prevail? As I said at the time… it’s complicated. But now he’s got some company in this quest. A Michigan man of 18 is going after Dick’s on the same basis. (Fox 2 Detroit)
A Michigan teen is suing sporting goods store chain Dick’s for refusing to sell him a gun after the retailer changed its policy in the aftermath of the deadly Parkland school shooting.
The store announced last Wednesday that it was raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21 years old at its stores.
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.
The differences between the Oregon cases and this one seem superficial at best. The plaintiff in this case is 18 rather than 20, but both are legal adults who would otherwise be able to purchase a firearm based on their respective ages. The attorney for the Michigan man confirms that his client has no criminal record, history of mental illness or anything else which might cause him to fail a background check. And while this isn’t a Second Amendment case, state law may give this guy a pathway to victory.
Over at Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis follows up on his previous post about the Oregon lawsuits and finds some similarities here.
As I noted at the time, though, there are laws on the books in roughly one-third of the states that do bar age discrimination and which do not appear to have exemptions for retail sales in general or gun sales in particular, meaning that the decisions by Dick’s, Walmart, or other retailers to bar gun sales based on age could be subject to legal challenge. At the time, I expressed doubt that such a lawsuit would be successful and that the retailers could make an at least credible argument that their policies are well-founded and should not subject them to liability under the stated law. All of these cases will need to be fully litigated, of course, so it will be interesting to see what the Judges at the state level have to say on the matter. As it stands, though, the language of the laws in both states appear to strongly favor the Plaintiffs in both cases.
Just as with the previous case, this all appears to come down to a question of which states have public accommodation laws which prohibit discrimination based on age. The list is here, and just like Oregon, Michigan is on the list.
As we discussed last time, the court will be applying a lower level of scrutiny to the store’s policy because age discrimination isn’t handled as severely by the courts as race or gender discrimination. Still, Dick’s will need to demonstrate that their policy passes the “rational basis” test in terms of the imposition they place on the customer. This basically means that they will have to satisfy the court that the discrimination (in this case, against consumers aged 18, 19 or 20) is justified because they are serving a greater public good. Can they show that customers of that age are significantly more irresponsible or prone to violence than someone who is 21 or older? They can join the military and, in at least some states, enroll in the police academy or take a job as an armed security guard.
That’s going to be a heavy lift for Dick’s as I see it. That doesn’t mean that any particular court won’t find in the retailer’s favor, but the smart money seems to be on the plaintiff in this one.