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Gun dealers: No need for age restrictions

Gun dealers: No need for age restrictions

Law professor wonders if limits by Walmart, Dick's are legal
Gun dealers: No need for age restrictions
David Leon, co-owner of B&D Gunsmoke in Rotterdam, holds an AR-15 at the shop in October 2017.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

CAPITAL REGION — A pair of local gun dealers are scratching their heads at some corporate competitors’ decision not to sell firearms to anyone under 21 years old.

Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart made their new policies public Wednesday and the Fred Meyer stores operated by Kroger made a similar announcement Thursday.

“We think this is only going to help the small local gun store,” said David Leon, co-owner of B&D Gunsmoke in Rotterdam. “Do we think it’s constitutional? No.”

The state Attorney General’s Office did not return a call for comment for this story on the legality of refusing to sell a legal product to someone legally entitled to buy it. The state Division of Human Rights said the issue would not fall within its purview, should someone bring a complaint.

An Albany Law School professor said the policy seems discriminatory to him because it’s based on the person’s traits.

“It’s an interesting question,” Stephen Clark said. “I think it might be illegal.”

It is similar in some ways to civil rights cases 65 years ago involving Southern lunch counters where minorities could not eat and the Supreme Court case last year involving a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, Clark said.

“Its motive is obviously different,” he said, referring to the gun sale ban, but added: “It’s a good claim. ... I’d like to see them bring it, just to see what the answer is.”

Clark said federal laws about age discrimination pertain to employment, not public accommodation. Various states have various rules on age discrimination in public accommodations such as stores. For that reason, “There’s probably not going to be one answer for the entire country,” he said.

New York’s rules would seem to go against gun-sale restrictions, Clark said, as they are based on the buyer’s traits. 

Sometimes not enough consideration is given to whether an exclusion policy is legal, he said. He involved himself last year in the ruckus over an Austin, Texas, theater’s decision to hold a women-only screening of “Wonder Woman,” which many men complained about. It was obvious to him the theater hadn’t thought through the implications of excluding an entire gender.

Leon said a big-box department store isn’t the best-suited place to sell guns; specialty shops like Gunsmoke are experts in rules and laws, and offer training and instruction.

“It’s hard to get the educated staff,” he said. “You can’t just hire $9-an-hour staff and expect them to sell guns.”

Leon said sales at Gunsmoke jumped in the wake of the Florida school massacre two weeks ago.

New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, he said. What’s needed is not more restrictions on gun ownership but more security to keep guns out of schools.

“We really want to see our classrooms and schools protected,” Leon said.

David Petronis, who operates Hudson River Trading Co. in Mechanicville, said the age restrictions on gun sales are misplaced and a “normal liberal reaction.”

“I don’t agree with the age discrimination limit,” he said. “If somebody comes into my gun shop and is 18 and they pass the background check, there’s no reason I can’t sell them an AR-15.”

Petronis said it is ironic that 13- to 15-year-old student activists are viewed as sources of wisdom as they speak out in the wake of the Florida massacres, but 18- to 20-year-olds are viewed as not smart enough to buy a gun.

Those same 18-year-olds, if they’re men, are required to register for the draft and potentially carry the military version of the AR-15 rifle used in the Florida school massacre, he added.

The various proposals and announcements are part of the pushback seen after every mass shooting, Petronis said. “I don’t know why we need all the new laws.”

He may get a better sense of public sentiment, pro- and anti-gun, when he holds the latest in the long-running series of New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates gun shows this weekend in Rutland, Vermont, the first since the Florida massacre.

Petronis, like Leon, said gun sales are best left to a specialty firearms dealer, rather than an associate at a large store. 

“I don’t even see why Walmart still sells guns,” he said. “Probably the best thing for them to do is get out of it.

“You have to be a bona fide gun store to sell these things. If you come into my shop, I know what I’m doing.”

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