Michigan Man Sues Dick’s Over Gun Age Restriction Policy

Another lawsuit has been filed against Dick's Sporting Goods over its policy barring gun sales based on age.

A Michigan man has filed a lawsuit alleging that the decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods to bar sales of all guns to anyone under 21 years of age violates that state’s age discrimination laws:

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.

“Dick’s corporate policy is not to sell to anyone under 21 years of age, even though Michigan allows for anyone over 18 year to purchase a firearm,” said James Makowski.

Fulton’s attorney says that the teen would have passed a federal background check, which legally qualifies him to buy a rifle in Michigan.

“Stores should be able to violate people’s civil rights? Are we going to stop allowing black people firearms? Are we going to stop allowing Mexicans to buy firearms? No.”

Specifically, Makowski is suing Dick’s for violation of Michigan’s Elliot Larson law, which he says prevents discrimination based on age.

“Retailers are not responsible for what happens to a product. What’s wrong with it, is that it is a constitutionally protected right and the law allows it, and they are discriminating against a whole group of people based on age,” he said.

This case joins a lawsuit filed earlier this week by a 20-year-old man in Oregon against the retailer, which James Joyner made note of in a post on Tuesday. The Oregonian notes that the same person who filed that lawsuit has filed a similar lawsuit against Walmart raising essentially the same legal claims under the Beaver State’s age discrimination that he raised in the lawsuit against Dick’s, namely that the policy restricting sales of all weapons to anyone under 21 violates state laws against discrimination based on age. Eugene Volokh has posted comments about both the Oregon and Michigan lawsuits and reaches the conclusion that, in both cases, the Plaintiffs appear to have fairly strong cases under their state’s existing laws. Based on the portions of the applicable statutes in question, I tend to agree with Volokh’s conclusion with respect to both cases. In these two states at least, it would appear that the policy change by these private retailers does run afoul of the laws in question, although there could be state law precedent in one or both states that the retailers could point to as supporting the legality of their policies.

As I noted in my post on age restrictions on gun sales posted prior to the lawsuits being filed, it’s clear that. at least under Federal law, there is no legal basis for a claim against a retailer for age discrimination. The Second Amendment obviously doesn’t apply here since that Amendment applies only to government action, not the private action of retailers. Therefore, we must look to the statutes to determine if these policies are valid. In the case of Federal law, though, the principal Federal anti-discrimination law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does not cover retail sales and also does not bar discrimination based on age. 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.

These lawsuits would largely be moot, of course, if there is legislation drafted at either the state or Federal level that would restrict gun sales based on age as a matter of law. On the Federal level, while it does appear that there is at least some verbal support for this kind of legislation from President Trump and from both Republican and Democratic Senators and Members of Congress However,  it’s unclear that Congress will be strongly motivated on that or any other issue related to gun control at any point this year. At the same time, though, Governors on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for the idea of changing state law on the issue and it seems likely that many of those states will actually follow through on action regardless of what happens at the Federal level. This is easier said than done in many states, of course, and it seems more likely to happen in states controlled by Democrats than in those where the legislature and/or the Governor’s Mansions are controlled by Democrats. With respect to the two states where lawsuits have been filed, Michigan currently has a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican Governor, so it’s unclear whether any kind of state-based age restriction bill would even be considered. Oregon, on the other hand, has both a Democratic Governor and a state legislature under Democratic control, so that state may be more ripe for reform. In that regard, though, it’s worth noting that both states have a strong hunting tradition that could make any move to further restrict gun sales difficult even for Democrats. If such state laws are passed, though, then any legal claims of age discrimination would appear to be moot, and lawsuits against the laws restricting gun sales based on age are unlikely to be well-received by courts.

Here’s the Complaint in Watson v. Dick’s Sporting Goods that was filed earlier this week:

Watson v. Dick’s Sporting Goods by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

And here’s the Complaint that was filed against Walmart by the same Oregon Plaintiff that has sued Dick’s:

Watson v. Walmart by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

Finally, here’s the Complaint against Dick’s filed in Michigan:

Fulton v. Dick’s Sporting Goods by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    I see in the national ‘press’ that FL legislators are getting lots of headlines for ‘rebuking’ and ‘defying’ the NRA by requiring a firearms purchaser be 21yrs old. In context of the FL mass shootings and other proposed changes (‘assault weapon’ ban) it seems like very thin soup indeed but there we are; I guess that such a small deviation from NRA orthodoxy constitutes the Protestant Reformation in Dixie.

    What is interesting is the possibility that the NRA will strongly defend their 18yr old age preference in the state legislatures where the suits are filed (MI and OR).

    I bet that THAT would active a strong Democrat/liberal movement to turn out state legislators in a pretty important year for re-districting.




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  2. James Pearce says:

    “Stores should be able to violate people’s civil rights? Are we going to stop allowing black people firearms? Are we going to stop allowing Mexicans to buy firearms? No.”

    Well, to be fair, we don’t allow Mexicans to buy firearms in US gun stores… Maybe he means Americans of Hispanic descent, who may or may not be Mexicans.

    It’s funny, from age 18 until 21 I was keenly interested in “age discrimination” type things. Then you age out of it and you become less interested. Then, if you’re really lucky, you get to that age where you start to be grateful, at the bar or the casino, that the teenagers are excluded.




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  3. KM says:

    @James Pearce:

    It’s funny, from age 18 until 21 I was keenly interested in “age discrimination” type things. Then you age out of it and you become less interested. Then, if you’re really lucky, you get to that age where you start to be grateful, at the bar or the casino, that the teenagers are excluded.

    Of course you didn’t care anymore – it didn’t apply to you anymore so what’s the problem? It’s like people not caring about SS until it’s time to collect and then it’s hands off my money! It’s a good idea to care about age restrictions because the age can be anything -21, 35, 50, etc. 21 is a number they picked out of their ass. Who’s to say it won’t go higher or lower? Old people shouldn’t have guns either for “safety issues” so everyone over the age of 60 should lose the right too. Once you establish age is a relevant factor to safety, you’ve introduced the entire spectrum to restrictions depending on what “safety metric” is in play. Be careful what you wish for.

    The NRA is a real bind here. Supporting the raise to 21yr is CLEARLY an infringement on a constitutional right as they have defined it for the last half century. They are saying they support a limitation on someone that is of legal age for no other reason then their age. It also means that the 2A can be infringed upon legally, safely and to the benefit of all. Their own rhetoric means they absolutely cannot accept this as it’s a violation of everything they “stand for”….. and yet they seem to be knuckling under. They’re smart enough to realize something’s gotta give so they’re tossing young people under the bus. Sucks to be them, some of those “kids” are voting age and republicans to boot. Karma’s a bitch….

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reasonable restrictions. However, I do not believe age to be one of them. If we’re going to restrict by anything personal, it’s not age but *gender* that should be restricted. After all, it’s MEN that are doing the killing in all the mass shootings regardless of age. Why are young women, living alone for the first time, now denied access to weapons for their protection? Isn’t that one of the NRA’s favorite lines – an innocent, defenseless woman can now protect herself from home invaders? Girls aren’t shooting up schools, movie theaters, churches or music festivals so why are their constitutional rights being curtailed simply because they are 18?




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  4. de stijl says:

    @KM:

    I’m all for reasonable restrictions. However, I do not believe age to be one of them.

    Most car rental companies will not rent a car to you unless you are 25 or older (some states and some companies allow people as young as 21 to rent a car if you pay a surcharge).

    https://www.vroomvroomvroom.com/teens-and-rental-cars/

    Is the car rental age restriction illegal age discrimination?




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  5. Ray Raddatz says:

    @de stijl:

    In Michigan, you can’t refuse to rent a car to someone as long as they’re 18. There is case law on that already so I’m betting Dicks is going to lose on this one.




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  6. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @KM:

    I’m all for reasonable restrictions. However, I do not believe age to be one of them

    Do you support handgun sales to 18 year olds?
    How about 14 year olds?




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  7. KM says:

    @de stijl :

    Renting a car is not a constitutionally enumerated right. You have the right to free travel, not specifically a car. Therefore, they can set rental age at whatever they like. It’s their car, you’re just borrowing it.

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    Did I miss 14yr becoming the new age of majority and legal standard for the nation? Please don’t be obtuse. As I’ve said, I’m a pro-2A liberal that believes in reasonable restrictions so yes, should said 18yr pass a rigorous background check that includes things like DV, social media checks and mental health issues, safety classes, national database registration and yearly recerts then hell yes they can have the handgun. They’re legally an adult and as long as they are treated the same as all other gun owners, it really shouldn’t matter when their birthday is. I know several 18yrs I’d trust with a gun more then a 40yr pushing for this type of restriction.

    I think we should be restricting types of guns and place a heavier burden on owners to prove capability and trustworthiness, not singling out someone just because they’re young. Older folks shoot up places too – in fact, before this latest spat of school shootings it was all people over 21 killing dozens of their fellow adults. This latest age push is a deflection of blame and false reassurance. It’s not going to solve anything, it’s just another way to say “oh it’s not the sick gun worship in this country. It’s them damn millennials and their participation trophies!!”




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  8. James Pearce says:

    @KM:

    Girls aren’t shooting up schools, movie theaters, churches or music festivals so why are their constitutional rights being curtailed simply because they are 18?

    Ah, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to.




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  9. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @KM:

    Did I miss 14yr becoming the new age of majority and legal standard for the nation?

    Did I miss something in the constitution that suggests that constitutional rights are only assured to those over the age of 18?

    While I agree with your “I think we should be restricting types of guns and place a heavier burden on owners to prove capability and trustworthiness…” , I don’t know that it would be constitutionally supportable.

    I am not advocating for 14 year olds to “keep and bear arms”, rather I’m trying to point out a logic inconsistancy. If you believe that restricting long gun sales to 18-21 year olds is unconstitutional, based solely on age, it logically follows that restricting hand gun sales to that same group is equally unconstitutional.

    I am not aware that any court has ruled that laws restricting hand gun sales to the 18-21 group is constitutional.




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  10. Bob@Youngstown says:
  11. george says:

    Isn’t this part of the general question of whether a store can discriminate? If this is allowed, why isn’t it allowed to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation, or race, or just because you don’t like the way a person looks?

    I’m all for age restrictions on buying firearms, but it should be done by legislation, not because a store decides they don’t want to sell to a certain class of people.




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  12. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @george:

    just because you don’t like the way a person looks?

    Actually the license under which Dicks operates (FFL) explicitly permits them to refuse to sell to someone that they (the licensed dealer) don’t like the way they look.




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