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Injunction denied in under-21 gun suit

Injunction denied in under-21 gun suit

In denying a motion to halt store policies barring gun sales to people younger than 21 while a lawsuit pends, a judge has sided in favor of Dick’s Sporting Goods in the early stages of a lawsuit by a 20-year-old who claims his civil rights were violated when the store refused to sell him a gun.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Ron Grensky denied a motion April 4 for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order in the suit filed by Tyler Watson, 20, against Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Watson alleges “illegal and discriminatory” practices on grounds that the Medford Field and Stream store refused to sell him a rifle the last week of February, because of a store policy that went into effect following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Watson, who said in the suit he lives in Gold Hill, made national headlines last month when he filed the Jackson County lawsuit, as well as one in Josephine County against Walmart because he was also denied a gun at the company’s Grants Pass store.

The lawsuits are among the first filed over new store policies that have gone into effect since the Florida shooting. A Battle Creek, Michigan, 18-year-old filed a similar suit against Dick’s within a week of Watson’s suit, according to news reports.

Grensky’s order came after a March 26 hearing in which two Grants Pass lawyers representing Watson and two Portland lawyers representing the sporting goods chain appeared.

Documents filed March 25 by Dick’s say the store enacted the policy Feb. 28, after learning that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz had legally purchased a gun at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store ahead of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

“In the wake of this massacre, and not wanting to be a part of this story any longer, DSG (Dick’s Sporting Goods) decided to take a stand to help protect schoolchildren in the communities in which it does business,” the document says, and notes that other stores in Oregon have rolled out similar policies, such as Bi-Mart, REI, and Fred Meyer parent company Kroger.

Dick’s lawyers argue that a temporary restraining order would be akin to a final judgment. The store would be compelled to sell Watson a firearm, “rendering moot” the injunctive relief he seeks.

“Despite his prayer for relief purportedly on behalf of all ‘18, 19 and 20-year-old customers,’ Plaintiff did not file this case as a class action and he has no standing to seek relief on behalf of similarly situated persons,” a footnote says.

The document separately addresses a widely circulated letter by Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian that said, “age discrimination in the sale of firearms is illegal under Oregon law.”

Dick’s lawyers argue that the purpose of the letter was to say that nothing would preclude an individual from filing a claim, though each case must be decided on its own merits.

“The letter does not state that the refusal to sell firearms to those under 21 is illegal, and it expresses no opinion on the merits of any potential claim,” the document says.

Dick’s lawyers also argue that businesses have long been able to impose age-based restrictions without running afoul of the Oregon Public Accommodation Act, statutes at the core of Watson’s argument, such as age limits on tobacco sales, gifts to minors, car rentals and insurance laws.

The document further cites Oregon laws regarding age-based “distinctions” concerning firearms, using as examples specific Oregon laws requiring armed private security workers to be at least 21 years old, and limits for state concealed handgun licenses to those 21 and older.

“These laws support the conclusion that, even if not expressly carved out of the OPAA, the reasonable restriction by a retailer limiting sales of firearms and ammunition to persons at least 21 years of age is permissible,” the document says.

Watson’s lawyers canceled a separate Josephine County preliminary injunction hearing against Walmart, which had been scheduled for earlier this month, court records show. No upcoming court dates have yet been set in either the Jackson or Josephine county cases.

Watson’s lawyers filed new complaints April 6 in both suits that strip language related to “punitive damages in an amount to be determined because of the willful nature of the discrimination.”

Further, the amended Jackson County complaint corrects the date Watson unsuccessfully tried to purchase a rifle at the Medford Field and Stream store, from Feb. 24 to Feb. 28 — the date that the Dick’s store policy on under-21 gun sales went into effect.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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