Back in March, I featured a story about 20-year-old Tyler Watson. He’s an Oregon resident who attempted to purchase a rifle from Dick’s Sporting Goods shortly after they changed their store policy and wouldn’t sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21. He later attempted to make the same purchase (a .22 caliber long rifle) from Walmart and was similarly declined. Watson retained an attorney and proceeded to sue both stores.
I have yet to see any action on Watson’s lawsuits, but it turns out that someone else found themselves in the same situation and her case has now prodded the state government into action against Walmart. 18-year-old Hannah Brumbles, having been refused service in this fashion by Walmart, kicked off a lawsuit which has led to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries sending a memo to the retail giant telling them that they are in violation of the law. (The Oregonian)
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries issued a memo this week suggesting that it is illegal for retailers to restrict gun and ammunition sales based on the buyers age.
Hannah Brumbles, an 18-year-old from Deer Island in unincorporated Columbia County, filed a complaint with the state after a Walmart store in St. Helen’s refused to sell her a rifle or ammunition last February because she was younger than 21.
Oregon law allows individuals 18 and older to purchase firearms, but a variety of regional and national retailers, including Walmart, adopted more restrictive policies following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is accused of killing 17 people, including 14 students and three staff members, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
I should point out again, as I did in March, that this isn’t a Second Amendment issue. Walmart can’t infringe on your right to keep and bear arms. Only the government can do that. But the state does have protections for its citizens from discrimination based on a variety of factors, including age. Eugene Volokh, writing at Reason, has dredged up the applicable statutes regarding public accommodations (covering the sale of almost any goods or services) which protect those aged 18 and over from discrimination in their ability to purchase goods and services. There are exceptions in the laws which allow for a state established minimum age for the purchase of alcohol and marijuana (!), but there is no exception for firearms.
659A.403 Discrimination in place of public accommodation prohibited. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is of age, as described in this section, or older.
The additional bits of code after that spell out the exceptions to the rules, making no mention of the sale of firearms. Volokh then goes on to conclude that Walmart is just in the wrong here and will wind up on the losing end of this fight.
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.
But the Oregon Legislature seems to have resolved those arguments in favor of banning such discrimination. Given that, I don’t see any legal basis for Walmart’s refusal to sell a rifle to Hannah Brumbles because she was 18 (which is what the BOLI complaint alleges).
It sounds to me as if both Dick’s and Walmart are going to wind up losing all of these lawsuits and have to either go back to selling firearms to all qualified buyers who are 18 or over, or they’ll have to stop selling rifles entirely. That would set a precedent for cases in the rest of the states having public accomodation laws with no exceptions for firearms sales as well. The question is, can Dick’s and Walmart continue enforcing their policy in states with no such protections? The answer appears to be yes as far as I can tell.