Overnight, Howard Schultz, CEO of the Seattle-based Starbucks – which has become the unwilling focal point of a political struggle over gun rights – started a tempest in a coffee pot with an open letter asking people to not carry firearms in Starbucks coffee shops, but it is not an outright ban.
Anti-gunners seemed to be declaring victory, and some – though not all – in the firearms community, especially some Open Carry activists, seemed to be declaring war, but that's not universal. Others were taking a more moderate approach, noting that Starbucks has never wanted to be in the middle of a political firestorm, it only wanted to sell coffee. One blog post takes the open carry movement to task over this.
This flap began more than three years ago when gun prohibitionists started complaining that many businesses actually catered to armed citizens. It wasn’t the blue or stainless steel on their hips but the green in their wallets that was important and judging from the tone of Schultz’ letter, that’s still the case.
As a longtime friend of this column, Gun Talk’s Tom Gresham, noted in an e-mail, “They are not banning guns. They are requesting.”
Various bloggers, having had a chance to sleep on this development, seem to be noting the same thing. The Schultz letter reminds everyone that Starbucks’ “longstanding approach to ‘open carry’ has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don’t exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores.”
The problem, in Schultz’ view, is that the open carry debate has “become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening.” Boorish behavior by some activists on both sides of the issue has been observed over the past couple of years, and it has not helped either side. Open Carry activists are discussing this development on the Open Carry.org forum here, here and here.
Likewise, Schultz notes, “Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.” Recall that it was the gun control lobby that started this controversy by demanding, and in some cases bullying various businesses, especially in the Bay Area of California to ban firearms from their establishments. They also showed up to demonstrate at a Starbucks meeting in Seattle.
An image of a Starbucks memo has flashed across cyberspace, with instructions on how employees should deal with the issue. It is politically neutral, as Starbucks has endeavored to be throughout the controversy.
Schultz’ letter notes, “We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement—not by Starbucks and our store partners.”
The coffee chain did not ask to be a corporate political football.
It has long been a principle of many in the firearms community, including many Open Carry activists, that carrying a firearm openly or concealed should be done with discretion and without fanfare. It’s a piece of equipment, not a political statement. If you want to make a political statement, rent a billboard.
One longtime activist contacted this column Wednesday and said he would continue to patronize Starbucks in his neighborhood, where he is well known to the employees. That will continue until he is asked to leave, and if that happens, he will never go back. But it has not happened yet, and that is the important bottom line.
If someone or some group wishes to debate firearms rights and policies, a much better venue might be found. The service area of a private business is the wrong place.