Major sporting goods stores that restrict gun sales to customers 21 or older could violate Oregon anti-discrimination laws.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Oregon legislative leaders say they could take action to protect major sporting goods retailers against discrimination cases after the stores said they would not sell firearms to anyone younger than 21.PORTLAND — Oregon legislative leaders say they are willing to change Oregon law to protect retailers that voluntarily restrict gun and ammunition sales to customers 21 and older.

Under state and federal law, Oregonians 18 and older can buy rifles and shotguns, and the ammunition for those firearms. You must be at least 21 to buy a handgun and handgun ammunition. Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has concluded gun retailers that have stopped selling to customers younger than 21 in the wake of recent mass shootings could be violating the state's anti-discrimination laws. The decision could be challenged at the Bureau of Labor and Industries or in a civil court complaint.

Oregon law has made exemptions to the anti-discrimination law for the sales of alcohol and marijuana, in which case retailers are required to refuse to sell those products to people younger than 21. To raise the minimum age to buy firearms, state lawmakers would need to enact an exemption next legislative session.

"The retailers' policies to deny gun sales to those under 21 represents a common-sense effort to make public places safer," Avakian wrote in a March 6 letter to state legislative leaders.

BOLI employees plan to submit a bill for the 2019 legislative session to make the exemption for firearms.

On Monday, March 5, 20-year-old Gold Hill resident Tyler Watson sued Walmart Inc. and Dick's Sporting Goods in state court for refusing to sell him a rifle. Watson tried to buy rifles at a Grants Pass Walmart store and a Medford Field & Stream store, which are the only Dick's-owned outlets that sell semi-automatic rifles. Watson is asking the court to order Walmart and Dick's to end their new policies of selling firearms only to people 21 and older. No court dates have been set for the cases.

'An opportunity'

COURTNEYDuring an interview on Thursday, March 8, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Republican Leader Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte said they would support legislation to raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21 or to pass a law that allows retailers to decide. "We found out there's a problem with our laws, so I do expect if we are going to allow our businesses to say we do not want to sell you guns unless you're 21, we're probably going to have to help out in the next session," Courtney said. "… If that's the case, I see that as an opportunity, not one party but together, to do something."

McLANEMcLane said he also thought Republicans and Democrats could reach consensus on how to authorize stores to raise the minimum age. But Rep. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, said he would prefer to see such legislation orchestrated at the national level. "That way you don't have different states around the country with different laws all over the place. I would rather see them do some stuff at the federal level that we could mirror."

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, and Dick's Sporting Goods announced last week that they would raise the minimum age to buy firearms and ammunition, in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14. Other national department and sporting goods stores made similar decisions.

Locally, Kroger — owner of Fred Meyer — and Eugene's Bi-Mart also announced they would raise the gun purchase age to 21. Willamette Week first reported March 4 that the age limitations could violate the state's anti-discrimination laws, citing an opinion from a retired Lane County judge.

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