Starbucks announced earlier this week that guns are no longer welcome in its cafes or in its outdoor seating areas.
In an open letter posted on the company’s website as well as in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, asked customers to stop bringing guns into the company’s more than 7,000 stores across the U.S.
As Mint Press News previously reported, many gun rights advocates frequented Starbucks coffee shops, especially in recent months after the company’s 2010 policy, which stated that customers in states that allow persons to openly carry handguns can bring firearms into their stores.
Likely because of this policy, many gun rights and Second Amendment advocates have flocked to the coffee chain for the past three years. Some even have held “Starbucks Appreciation Days” at the coffee chain’s shops, in which groups of citizens would show up at a location with their firearms. The idea was to financially support a company that stands up for what participants called “our right to bear arms.”
But the appreciation day events were never sponsored by Starbucks, and some were even planned in cities such as Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed in an elementary school last December. Aware an event had been planned at that location, Starbucks closed its Newtown-based coffee shop for the day, before the event was scheduled to begin — a decision that was applauded by groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Newtown Alliance Action.
Talking to NBC prior to the scheduled event, David Ackert, a spokesman for Newtown Action Alliance, said the Newtown community was still healing from the elementary school shooting, saying, “It is disturbing to think that tomorrow night you and your children may be sitting in Starbucks when people carrying guns walk through the door.”
In his letter, Schultz noted that there is a “highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America’s gun laws,” and said he recognizes the “deep passion for and against the ‘open carry’ laws adopted by many states.”
However, Schultz added that the debate surrounding the issue has “become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening,” which is why he is asking gun owners to no longer bring firearms into Starbucks coffee shops.
“For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas,” Schultz wrote, “even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”
Though Schultz’s request may sound like a gun ban, he says it’s not, since “a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers,” which he says is “not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on.”
This point was reiterated by Starbucks spokesperson Zack Hutson, who said, “If customers choose not to abide the request, we will still serve them as we always have,” but added that “we’ve been very clear that guns are not welcome in our stores.”
Though the National Rifle Association has yet to comment on the issue, many gun rights advocacy groups have not been shy in vocalizing their discontent with the company’s new stance on guns, with some calling for a boycott of the coffee chain’s cafes.
Rob Harris is the media director for Michigan Open Carry, a group that took part in Starbucks Appreciation Day events this summer. He said while it’s ultimately Starbucks’ decision whether or not to allow firearms in their stores, “gun owners will choose on their own if they want to patronize them or not.”
Todd Von Bender, a firearms instructor and founder of the Sarasota, Fla.-based Armed Citizens League, said he thought Starbucks was kowtowing to pressure by those who didn’t respect the Second Amendment.
“I’ve already gotten 29 calls about it,” he said. “The blowback should be that we all start boycotting Starbucks to show that we are legitimate citizens, and that one thing we don’t like in America is being wishy-washy.
“If it’s a concealed weapon, nobody’s going to know about it anyway,” he added. “The worse thing that can happen is that they ask you to leave.”
Jaime Riley is a representative for Starbucks. In a recent interview with Mint Press News, she said the company had previously decided to allow individuals to bring their firearms into the coffee shops since “it’s best for us to comply with local statutes and communities that we serve and abide by the laws that permit open carry.
“We definitely hear feedback from both sides,” Riley said. “We are trying to remain bipartisan and just respect the local laws. We do encourage folks, customers and advocacy groups, to share their feedback with public officials because that’s where that dialogue needs to happen rather than at Starbucks.”
But since Starbucks had become a staging ground for advocates on both sides of the issue, Schultz said the company had to make some changes, especially in the past six months . When asked whether or not he is concerned about losing customers, Schultz said, “I feel like I’ve made the best decision in the interest of our company.”
Though criticized by some, the policy change has been applauded by groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which had organized “Skip Starbucks Saturdays” and encouraged coffee lovers to get their morning cup of joe from a location that banned firearms.
In response to the announcement, Shannon Watts, the group’s founder, released a statement saying, “This policy change represents a sea change in American culture, which is finally shifting away from allowing guns in public places.”
“Much like smoking was once accepted on airplanes and drunk driving was abided without severe penalties, it is becoming passe for gun advocates — who may or may not have background checks, training or permits — to bring their weapons to public places,” she said. “We thank and congratulate Starbucks for making this decision and for taking the safety of our children and families as seriously as mothers do.”
Watts added that she hoped other companies would follow Starbucks’ lead and also ban firearms from their premises as well.
Last month at a Starbucks coffee shop in Plymouth, Minn., Mint Press News asked customers whether or not they felt comfortable frequenting the cafe where open carry is legal with a permit. One customer who asked to remain anonymous said guns and coffee are “kind of an odd combination.”
Similarly, two other patrons — a man and a woman — said that while they support open-carry laws and the right to own a firearm, “I think you’d get quite an outrage if you saw a weapon — concealed or unconcealed — at a coffee shop.”
The man went on to share that he recently was at a Chipotle when he spotted someone with a gun.
“There was a guy, just a normal civilian, and he had his gun wide-open there for everyone to see and it made me very uncomfortable,” he said. “I support people owning guns, but as far as carrying them out on your day-to-day things, like a phone or anything else, no. It’s unnecessary.”
Shae Roberts agreed. “If there’s somebody sitting there with a gun,” she said, “instinctively I would have my eyes on them. Because when people, kids especially, see somebody with a gun, I think it’s scary.”