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Meet the 19-year-old gun rights advocate suing Dick's for age discrimination

It might sound frivolous, but legal experts say he has a pretty good chance of winning.

by Josh Hersh
Oct 31 2018, 7:29pm

BATTLE CREEK, Michigan — When Tristin Fulton walked into a Dick's Sporting Goods store in Troy, Michigan, in March and asked to look at a shotgun, he wasn't on a shopping mission. Fulton knew exactly what would happen: He'd be denied because he was under 21. And that's just how it went down, with his uncle Joel filming the whole thing.

Their goal: to set up a test case against a new policy established after the Parkland school shooting by Dick's and other big-box retailers, including Walmart and Kroger, that banned the sale of firearms to anyone under 21.

"I was advocating for people's rights," Fulton told VICE News in an interview at the gun shop his family owns in western Michigan. "When I showed up, and I was like, 'Hey, I wanna take a look at that,' he wouldn’t even put it in my hands. And that's age discrimination is what that is."

It might sound frivolous, but legal experts say Fulton has a pretty good chance of winning. Michigan’s civil rights law says that no company can refuse service to someone based on their age — so long as what they want is legal. And in Michigan, where Dick’s has two dozen stores, you only have to be 18 to purchase a rifle. His lawsuit is joined by a handful of similar ones in Oregon, which also has a broad nondiscrimination policy. (The Fultons say the suits are not coordinated.)

The legal fight against Dick's is a sign of the shifting lines in the battle over gun control in America. (Dick's declined to comment.) At a time when Congress and state legislatures seemingly can’t get anything done legislatively, corporations have started to take real action on the issue, with companies like Delta, Fedex, and Levi’s all ending discount programs with the NRA or joining high-profile campaigns against gun violence. Even major financial institutions, like Citibank and Bank of America, instituted tough new policies on how their corporate clients can work with gun dealers or manufacturers.

For conservative gun-rights activists like Fulton and his uncle, this fight is just as dire as the one they've effectively won against government regulation. And they plan to fight it exactly the same way: Don't give an inch.

"When it comes to civil rights, when it comes to people's individual rights, we're not going to go down the slippery slope and try and climb back up," Joel Fulton said. "We're going to nip it in the bud and stop it early."