Major sporting goods stores that restrict gun sales to customers 21 or older could violate Oregon anti-discrimination laws.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Oregon legislative leaders say they could take action to protect major sporting goods retailers against discrimination cases after the stores said they would not sell firearms to anyone younger than 21.Oregon lawmakers 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, but they must be at least 21 to buy a handgun and handgun ammunition.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has concluded that 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. Avakian's Bureau of Labor and Industries plans to submit a bill next year to change that.

Oregon law has made exemptions to the anti-discrimination law in the past for the sales of alcohol and marijuana. Retailers are not allowed to sell those products to people younger than 21. To raise the minimum age to buy firearms, state lawmakers would need to enact a similar exemption in the 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 to state legislative leaders.

BOLI employees plan to submit a bill for the 2019 legislative session to add the exemption for firearms.

Supermarket chain Fred Meyer was one of several stores which raised the gun purchase age to 21 after a shooting at a Florida high school killed 17, but last week announced it would go one step further and stop selling guns and ammunition at its stores entirely.

The Portland-based company made the announcement Friday, March 16, saying dropping sales numbers over the past few years have caused the company to rethink stocking firearms or ammunition.

"Fred Meyer has made a business decision to exit the firearms category," the company said. "We are currently working on plans to responsibly phase out sales of firearms and ammunition."

Owned by Kroger Co., Fred Meyer operates stores in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

The news comes a week after a 20-year-old Hillsboro man filed a lawsuit against the company demanding it sell him ammunition. After the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead, Fred Meyer said it would stop selling firearms to anyone under the age of 21.

Airion Grace filed a lawsuit against Fred Meyer's parent company, Kroger, on March 9 in Washington County Circuit Court. Grace said a Hillsboro Fred Meyer, 6495 S.E. Tualatin Valley Highway, refused to sell him shotgun ammunition because of his age.

Grace is also suing Bi-Mart for a similar incident. Both stores have stopped selling guns or ammunition to people under 21, as have Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods and other retailers.

"We believe Oregon law is clear, and that under state law, no retailer can discriminate based on age," Grace's attorney Kristian Roggendorf said last week. "If the Oregon legislature wants to change the law, it can do so but it has not, and the stores' decisions flat-out discriminate against our client."

In its release Friday, the company did not give a timeline for when stores would stop selling firearms.

Gun sales account for about $7 million of Fred Meyer's annual revenue, the company said, but sales have been declining.

"We made the decision early last week after evaluating changing customer preferences and the fact that we've been steadily reducing this category in our Fred Meyer stores over the last several years due to softening consumer demand," the company said. "More recently we have been transitioning away from gun departments as a result of our ongoing work to optimize space in our Fred Meyer stores."

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