Lawmakers will consider bills to protect gun retailers

Retailers that restrict long gun sales to customers 21 or older could be violating Oregon's anti-discrimination laws.

PORTLAND — State 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 court complaint. Oregon 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. In order 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 letter Tuesday to state legislative leaders.

Employees at the Bureau of Labor and Industries plan to submit a bill for the 2019 legislative session to make the exemption for firearms.

During an interview on Thursday, state 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.”

McLane 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 federal 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 they will 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, in February. Other national department and sporting goods stores made similar decisions.

Locally, Kroger — owner of Fred Meyer — and Eugene-based Bi-Mart also announced they will 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.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.


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