Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) is asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home or in their cars, reversing its stance after being caught in the political debate over gun rights in the U.S.
Beginning today, Starbucks coffee shops “respectfully request” that patrons stop bringing their guns in the stores, Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “We’re not pro-gun or anti-gun,” he said. The Seattle-based company simply wants no part of the escalating debate over the Second Amendment and the place of firearms in American society.
Starbucks, which unlike many restaurant chains and retailers until now tolerated guns inside its coffee shops, had been embraced by gun-rights activists as a champion of their cause. The new policy took shape over a period of months, Schultz said, and wasn’t related to this week’s Washington Navy Yard shooting rampage, which prompted Democrats in Congress to renew their campaign for tougher gun-control laws.
“Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called ‘Starbucks Appreciation Days’ that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of ‘open carry,’” Schultz wrote in an open letter released today. “To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.”
Starbucks won’t ban firearms outright, however, because it would “put employees in a very uncomfortable position of confronting somebody with a gun,” Schultz said.
Scrutiny regarding an individual’s right to carry a concealed weapon has increased recently. Weak concealed-gun-carry laws in 25 states add to the dangers from laws that allow people to use lethal force in self-defense, according to a report yesterday from the Center for American Progress in Washington, a research group aligned with Democrats. The study was released a day after the deadly mass shooting at the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in Washington.
All states now allow concealed carry, with varying permit and regulatory requirements.
While Starbucks’s new policy is a step in the right direction, it won’t deter customers from bringing firearms into cafes, Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“Starbucks needs to work out a real solution,” Everitt said in a phone interview. “If this is about the safety of employees and customers, Starbucks needs to decide whether to allow guns into the store or not.”
Schultz said the debate over carrying a gun in public if it’s in full view, the so-called open carry, has become “increasingly uncivil, and in some cases even threatening.”
“We want to give responsible gun owners a chance to respect our request,” he wrote. “The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.”
Since 2010, gun owners in California and other states have shown up en masse and armed for Starbucks Appreciation Days meant to promote the open carrying of firearms in the majority of states where the practice is legal.
Acrimony over the guns-and-coffee demonstrations peaked in August in Newtown, the Connecticut community that was the site of a December 2012 elementary school massacre, where substitute teacher and part-time Starbucks barista Lauren Rousseau was killed. Some residents of the town were so upset by the prospect of a pro-gun rally that Starbucks closed the Newtown store early on the afternoon of Aug. 9. About two dozen people still showed up at the closed cafe.
“We felt our partners at our stores were being thrust unwillingly into this political debate,” Jim Olson, a Starbucks spokesman, said in an interview.
Now the question is whether some of the same gun owners who celebrated Starbucks’s previous hospitality will make the chain a target of hostile protests.
“I empathize with both sides,” Schultz said. “Starbucks is not a policymaker.” He declined to say whether he personally owns a firearm, adding: “I don’t think it’s relevant.”
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