A Gold Hill man filed age discrimination lawsuits Monday against Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. after he couldn’t buy a rifle because of the stores’ new policy not to sell guns or ammunition to anyone younger than 21.

On Saturday, 20-year-old Tyler Watson went to a Walmart Store in Grants Pass and to a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Medford to buy a rifle, and he was refused, he said in his lawsuits. The clerks in both stores told Watson that store policy said they couldn’t sell any guns or ammunition to him because he was younger than 21, the lawsuits allege.

Oregon law protects people from age discrimination. Anyone 18 or older is in a protected class, said Timothy Crawley, a political activist and civil rights attorney in Portland.

“In Oregon, businesses cannot discriminate if (they) openly discriminate against (customers) because of their age,” Crawley said. “Walmart, Dick’s, Kroger and Bi-Mart are four entities that have been very public that they are not going to sell firearms and ammunition to a particular age group.”

In response, Walmart said it would stand behind its policy to not sell any ammunition or guns to anyone younger than 21. Four businesses — Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, The Kroger Co., which operates Fred Meyer, and Bi-Mart — announced last week they would not sell guns to anyone younger than 21.

“In light of recent events, we reviewed our policy on firearm sales,” said Randy Hargrove, Walmart spokesman. “As a result, we raised the age restriction for the purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. While we haven’t seen the complaint, we will respond as appropriate with the court. ”

The lawsuits, filed Monday in Josephine and Jackson counties, cite the Oregon age discrimination law as the basis for the suits and seek to stop the businesses from age discrimination. The lawsuits also seek an undisclosed sum in punitive damages.

Watson’s attorney, Max Whittington of Cauble, Cauble and Selvig in Grants Pass, would not comment on the lawsuits.

The announcements by the four businesses came in reaction to the Parkland, Florida, massacre that killed 17 people and wounded another 14 on Feb. 14. The suspected shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15 semi-automatic, similar to the weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In that 2012 incident, 20 children and six adults were killed in Newtown, Connecticut.

Crawley said the businesses’ decision about guns is no different than the discriminatory practices of two Gresham bakery owners who refused to make a gay couple a wedding cake. The discrimination finding was recently upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

In Oregon, businesses cannot discriminate against a specific class of people because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age. It would have been better had these businesses decided to not sell guns to everyone, regardless of age, Crawley said.

Long guns can be purchased by anyone 18 or older, and buyers must be 21 or older to purchase a handgun, according to Oregon law. All gun purchasers must undergo a background check.

“These businesses are recognizing there’s a problem,” Crawley said. “They’re trying to see what sticks. There’s a lot of facets to the problem and people want to find a solution.

“This policy is an attempt to bring attention to the fact that we have to be mindful to what kind of rights we offer our community members.”

— Reporter; 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the city where Tyler Watson lives. The Bulletin regrets the error.