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Twin lawsuits take on new policies on gun sales

A 20-year-old Jackson County man made national headlines this week after he filed lawsuits against Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart claiming they discriminated against him when they refused to sell him a rifle because of his age.

Last week, Dick's and Walmart restricted gun sales to people 21 and older in the wake of the Florida high school massacre. The 19-year-old accused in the school slaying legally bought the AR-15 used in the attack.

The age-discrimination lawsuits filed Monday in Jackson and Josephine county civil courts both list a plaintiff of Tyler Watson, 20, of Gold Hill, and are believed to be the first filed over new store policies related to guns in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida.

Oregon law allows residents to buy shotguns or rifles starting at 18, and Watson's lawsuits filed against the retailers claim he faced age discrimination from Dick's in Medford and Walmart in Grants Pass. The lawsuits in Jackson and Josephine counties both ask a judge to put a stop to the retailers' new gun sale policies and award punitive damages because of the "willful nature of the discrimination."

Watson could not be reached for comment.

Little information has been made available about Watson, beyond that he was 20 years old when he attempted to buy a .22 caliber Ruger rifle at the Medford Field and Stream / Dick's Sporting Goods store Feb. 24, and was the same age Saturday when he attempted to buy a rifle at the Grants Pass Walmart.  The case filings don't list Watson's address, instead using the Grants Pass business address of law firm Cauble, Cauble & Selvig, representing Watson.

Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services records show no vehicle registration results for individuals named Tyler Watson in Gold Hill. DMV records did yield a Tyler Watson of Eagle Point with a December 1997 birth date, but Watson's lawyer, Max Whittington, did not return a message seeking confirmation on his client's birth date.

On Tuesday, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries said in a letter to state legislative leaders that the bureau would accept complaints from Oregonians who feel they have been discriminated against by the policies.

Without commenting on the merits of Watson's lawsuits, Commissioner Brad Avakian said state law currently only allows for age-related exemptions for alcohol and marijuana sales.

The bureau will present a bill to add a similar age restriction for gun sales to the Legislature next year for consideration, he said, adding that the policies seemed "appropriate" because they attempted to make public spaces safer.

Avakian also urged lawmakers to pass a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, among other things.

Watson did not know about the restrictions when he tried to buy a rifle, Whittington told The Oregonian/OregonLive, which first reported on the lawsuits Monday.

Watson is not part of an organized effort to push back against the retailers' policy, the lawyer added.

"He was really just trying to buy a rifle," Whittington told the newspaper.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the retailer plans to defend the new policy.

"We stand behind our decision and plan to defend it," he said. "While we haven't seen the complaint, we will respond as appropriate with the court."

A representative of Dick's didn't immediately return a call from The AP on Tuesday.

— Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan contributed to this story.

A 20-year-old Jackson County man in has filed a lawsuit against Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart after he says they refused to sell him a rifle. (AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis)