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News and notes on guns in America

Dick’s Settles Court Fight Over Age Limits for Guns

A 20-year-old man named Tyler Watson, who alleged age discrimination after he was denied a gun sale by Dick’s Sporting Goods, has settled his case against the retailer in Oregon’s Jackson County Circuit Court. According to state court records, a judge dismissed the case following the settlement.

Dick’s was one of the first companies to reform its gun policies after the February mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The gunman, a 19-year-old former student, legally purchased the AR-15 rifle he used in the attack from a gun store. Two weeks after the shooting, Dick’s announced that it would no longer sell any guns to buyers under the age of 21. It also took all military-style semiautomatic rifles off the shelves of its Field & Stream-branded stores. Walmart later adopted a similar age restriction.

The policy provoked immediate backlash. The National Rifle Association said that Dick’s was on a “campaign to alienate gun owners,” a move which it called “irrational.”

The new age restrictions went above and beyond federal law, which allows the sale of long guns to customers over the age of 18 (and the sale of handguns to customers over 21). Some states, including Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois, further limit sales by banning dealers from transferring any guns to people under 21.

In February, Watson attempted to purchase a gun at a Dick’s Field & Stream store in Medford, Oregon. A week later, he tried again at a Walmart. Both outlets denied the sales. Watson quickly filed lawsuits against the retailers, alleging discrimination under a state law that prohibits businesses from imposing their own restrictions on customers based on age, sex, or race. Conservative legal commentator Eugene Volokh of Reason.com and UCLA wrote that Watson had a strong case, describing the suit as “open and shut for the plaintiff and against Dick’s.”

It’s not clear why Watson settled his legal challenge. Amy Joseph Pedersen, a Portland-based attorney representing Dick’s, declined to comment. Watson’s counsel, Max Whittington, did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls. The court does not have any record of the settlement’s details. Volokh said that makes it difficult to draw conclusions about what the settlement means for the underlying legal issues. “People settle all the time, even when they want to fight. Sometimes for personal reasons,” Volokh said in a phone interview. But “the substance of the suit could still be very strong.”

Nonetheless, it does not appear the settlement resulted in a change to Dick’s policy. Employees at four Dick’s Field & Stream stores across the country, including the one in Medford, said that the age restriction is still in place. Dick’s did not respond to repeated calls and emails to its headquarters.

Watson’s case against Walmart is ongoing, and is scheduled to go to trial in January. By that time, he will have turned 21 and will be able to buy guns at both stores. While the injunctive relief Watson seeks would be moot, he could still pursue damages for a violation of his rights in 2018.