Controversy brewing

Starbucks' progressive ways draw fire on guns.
Associated Press
Sep 19, 2013

 

Starbucks has always set itself apart by taking strong positions on progressive political issues. Now that reputation has landed the company in the middle of the heated national debate over gun laws.

On Thursday, the Seattle-based company will run full-page ads in major newspapers, telling customers that guns are no longer welcome in its cafes. But Starbucks is stopping short of an outright ban, exposing the fine line it needs to walk on a highly divisive issue.

"We are not pro-gun or anti-gun," CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview, noting that customers will still be served if they choose to a carry gun.

The move comes as the company finds itself at the center of a fight it didn't start. In recent months, gun control advocates have been pressuring Starbucks to ban firearms, while supporters of gun rights have celebrated the company's decision to defer to local laws. About a month ago, Starbucks shut down a store in Newtown, Conn., early to avoid a demonstration by gun rights advocates. They had planned to stage a "Starbucks Appreciation Day," bringing their firearms and turning the company into an unwitting supporter of gun rights.

Support for guns runs counter to the Starbucks image. The warm feeling Starbucks customers get when they're sipping lattes doesn't always come from the coffee. For some, part of the brand's attraction is the company's liberal-leaning support of issues such as gay marriage and environmental preservation.

But with more than $13 billion in annual revenue and about 7,000 company-owned stores across the country —in red states and blue — Starbucks is being forced to tread carefully with its special blend of politics and commerce.

Many states allow people to carry licensed guns in some way, but some businesses exercise their right to ban firearms. They can do so because their locations are considered private property. Starbucks isn't the only company that doesn't ban guns, but it has become a target for gun control advocates, in part because of its corporate image.

"This is a coffee company that has championed progressive issues," said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun reform group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "They've positioned themselves about being about the human spirit — that was so at odds with this policy that allowed guns inside their stores."

Starbucks' mission statement is to "inspire and nurture the human spirit" and over the years, it has taken strong positions on a number of thorny issues. Earlier this year, the company banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores, wherever its leases allowed. The idea was to extend its no-smoking policy to the outdoor seating areas, regardless of state laws on the matter.

At the company's annual meeting in March, a shareholder stood to criticize Starbucks' support of marriage equality. Schultz told the man it was a free country and that he could sell his shares.

Starbucks has also been vocal about its health-care benefits for workers. And the company says it only does business with coffee farmers who pay workers decent wages and farm in an environmentally friendly way.

Such stances explain why Moms Demand Action, which was founded the day after the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., has been urging Starbucks to ban guns with its "Skip Starbucks Saturdays."

In turn, gun rights advocates have been galvanized by the company's decision to defer to local laws and staged the "Starbucks Appreciation Days."

Schultz said the events mischaracterized the company's stance on the issue and the demonstrations "have made our customers uncomfortable."

He said he hopes people will honor the request not to bring in guns but says the company will nevertheless serve those who do.

"We will not ask you to leave," he said.

The Seattle-based company plans to buy ad space in major national newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today to run an open letter from Schultz explaining the decision. The letter points to recent activities by both gun rights and gun control advocates at its stores, saying that it has been "thrust unwillingly" into the middle of the national debate over firearms.

As for the "Starbucks Appreciation Days" being staged by gun rights advocates, it stresses: "To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores."

But the letter notes that Starbucks is standing by its position that the matter should ultimately be left to lawmakers. Schultz also said he doesn't want to put workers in the position of having to confront armed customers by banning guns. The AP was provided a picture of a memo to Starbucks employees on Tuesday. The document instructs workers not to confront customers or ask them to leave solely for carrying a weapon.

Phillip Hofmeister, president of gun rights group Michigan Open Carry Inc., said he respects the right of private businesses such as Starbucks to determine its own gun policies. But he noted that the message was confusing.

"They're trying to make people like myself feel unwelcome but it's not an outright ban," said Hofmeister, who said he has been carrying a gun in public where permitted for the past several years.

Even if there's no ban, Hofmeister said he won't patronize a business where he didn't feel welcome.

Several companies do not allow firearms in their stores, including Peet's Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods. Representatives for those two companies said there haven't been any problems with enforcing their gun bans.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

 

Comments

Licorice Schtick

We're now so divided that where you buy your caffeinated beverage is a political statement. Sheesh!

SamAdams

Starbucks is privately owned. It can set whatever policies it wishes.

That being said, I'm a private consumer. I can buy — or not buy — from whatever coffee vendors I wish. I don't donate to causes I don't support, and so I won't be "donating" to Starbucks anytime soon.

deertracker

Aawwwww! We're crushed! What will they do without your 4 bucks?

SamAdams

Deertracker, please try for just a moment not to be such an a$$hat.

This isn't a boycott, not even on MY part. I'm only saying that you don't have to buy things from a place that sells things you don't want or which institutes policies with which you disagree. Did you see the comment about WalMart and the "cheap Chinese goods?" That's a perfectly fair comment, and a choice a shopper has every right to make. I don't see you jumping up and down complaining how much WalMart will miss HER grocery money every week, so why should you criticize MY choices?

Go buy yourself a cup of Starbucks. I'm sure it'll make you feel LOTS better...

deertracker

I don't drink coffee or carry a gun! A$$hat????????

LadyC

It isn't a donation, they are not a political group, it's a coffee shop for Pete's sake. The gun crap has gone way too far. I feel that there is nothing wrong with owning one or carrying one, responsibly, but people are practically worshipping them, and spreading more hatred and craziness. Now WalMart, on the other hand, is another story. I don't care what political affiliations they might have, I simply won't buy their cheap Chinese crap any more.

deertracker

Great comment!

Contango

I can see it now:

Members of the forthright Ruling Political Class will request that their armed bodyguards remain outside while they go in to buy their morning latte with skim milk.

looking around

You have to be a very paranoid individual to feel you need to carry a weapon into a Starbucks coffee shop, while your there remember to find a seat where your back is to the wall so you can keep an eye on the door. Keep a close watch on that guy with the beady eyes, his nose will give a little twitch just before he draws, don't let him get the drop on you! They probably will install saloon type swinging doors.

deertracker

You are so right! I'm all for the 2nd Amendment and the CCW but some are just ridiculous. SMDH!

LadyC

Peace and love and an AK, what better atmosphere for a coffee house?

Mystery_Cheese

Carrying a concealed weapon with you doesn't make you paranoid, it makes you prepared. Anything can happen, anywhere. It's a "better safe than sorry" situation. Personally, I'd much rather be able to keep my gun on me when I enter a store, than leave it in my car, which could be stolen. I see it as an utmost responsibility to ensure that my gun does not end up in the hands of a criminal.

Although I do agree that there are people who are paranoid, and they're the ones that shouldn't be armed.

AJ Oliver

Guns, bazookas, abrams tanks, WMD's, nuclear bombs - all of them are for cowards.

SamAdams

Do you know what an anti-gun Democrat is? He's a pro-gun conservative who hasn't yet been mugged at knife point.

Don't blame me for that sentiment, by the way. It was said to me by a former liberal Democrat lawyer in Minneapolis (formerly liberal and a Democrat, still a lawyer) some months after he was (wait for it) robbed at knife point, in fear for his life, and unable to do anything but cooperate and pray.

PyrkinsPyrate

Straight on AJ, people who use Guns, Bazookas, Abrams tanks, are all cowards if they post on blogs without their real names, but if they post with their real names then they are brave heroes.

Stop It

I noticed that you posted with your real name, wuss.

2cents's picture
2cents

Never go there anyway, way over priced for some decorated coffee : )

toredown11

SamAdams, I wasn't mugged and robbed at knife pint, but I was robbed at gun point. Guess what? I was a liberal Democrat then and I still am now. You know what else? I can live with myself because I didn't shoot and kill a kid over 50 bucks, my wallet and a jacket. When this guy confronted me on West 9th Street, I could tell he was pretty unstable. I got on my knees when he told me to, gave him what he wanted and reported it to the police. He was apprehended by Cleveland's finest about a week later after he did the same thing to another guy in just about the same spot. At the sentencing phase of the hearing when he got to speak (he had pleaded guilty), he apologized and admitted that he was a drug addict. He had obviously cleaned up between the time he mugged me and the trial, and when a few of his family members testified as character witnesses, I could tell that they really cared about him. I don't know what ever happened to him, but I'm glad that I left it to the authorities and didn't try to play judge, jury and God myself.

Mystery_Cheese

I'm glad things worked out well for you in the end, but not every situation is the same. Plenty of criminals don't change their colors, and go on to commit many more crimes. Plenty of criminals would gladly beat or shoot you in order to get what you have, and you have every right to defend yourself through any means necessary. The way I see it, is if you're attempting to take my money from me, which I consider part of my livelihood, then you have just forfeit any right to life. It's not a very ethical view on crime, but then again, robbing me wouldn't be ethical either.

Contango

Re: "I'm glad that I left it to the authorities and didn't try to play judge, jury and God myself."

As someone once told me:

The difference between an adventure and a tragedy is you get to tell the story.

Somebody pulls a gun on me, I'll assume that they are going to use it and act accordingly.

looking around

Contango, I'm betting that it if it ever happens, you will promptly $hit your pants, tremble and shake so hard you wouldn't be able to click the safety off much less point and shoot, like most other ccw permit holders that think they are ready to defend themselves and others. It isn't target shooting.....

Nemesis

You have a very pessimistic view of humanity.

Consider that, for at least 150 years, governments have been conscripting unwilling men (some would say boys) from all walks of life, and, after several weeks of shooting at paper targets, handing them a rifle and thrusting them into combat with hundreds of people actively shooting at them, and a very small percentage fail to rise to the occasion. And yet, you don't think people who freely choose to take a more aggressive approach are going to go to pieces at the sight of one untrained assailant.

looking around

You ask any combat veteran who was trained as you have described, they will freely tell you they were scared to death. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing in those situations. The same question can be asked of trained law enforcement people. I don't care how freely aggressive a person is or how they are trained, being prepared to take ones life and actually doing it is two very different things. The aggressive civilian will face legal ramifications even if justified. The combat personnel are carrying out their duty to their country and fellow soldiers in the field, they lay their lives on the line and when they survive they will never be quite the same. I'm not saying they will have mental problems but they do develop very deep and personal reflections on the events. You are correct in that I have a very pessimistic view of people who have such a view of daily life in America that they feel they need to be armed 24-7, can't secure their weapons properly because they "might need them at any moment" and think that somehow others should look at them as our protectors and super heroes.

P.S. it's been going on for a lot longer than 150 years.

Nemesis

Scared to death or not, the fact remains that they got the job done, despite the fact that many of them, before they got that draft notice, probably never touched a gun or thought of even hurting a fly. Among people who choose to arm themselves, knowing what it might mean, at least as high a percentage would react with at least the same level of competence.

P.S. The first US draft was during the Civil War.

Contango

Re: "I'm betting that it if it ever happens,"

Opinions vary.

looking around

I truly hope your never tested.

Contango

Re: "your"

It's "YOU'RE" Genius. :)

looking around

that is all you have? like I thought no nads.

grumpy

I've had a CCW since they first were available, and before that I had a license to carry. I have pulled my gun twice. Once I was alone and a guy with a knife stepped around a corner. He was within 21 feet (Tueller Drill) but was not "alert" so I pulled my gun. He ran, I turned around and went back from where I came from, called the cops and spent 2 hours answering questions and filling out paperwork. This was before CCW.

The other time I was with my wife and, then young kids. Three guys, one with a knife, one with a sawed off bat, and one with some type of bar. I stepped around, and my wife put the kids in a doorway and I pulled, they seemed to me to think numbers would make us easy prey. When my wife stepped beside me she had her gun out and we watched them leave quickly. They decided that 2 with guns weren't what they were looking for. Called cops and told them what happened and when they got there they checked our CCW's s listened to our story, took descriptions and left us on our way. This was a few years after CCW's were available.

Oh yeah, never fired, never had a finger on a trigger, did flick off the safeties. Reason we didn't shoot? Had no right to shoot. When they turned and ran, we were no longer in fear for great bodily harm nor for our lives. I was, and we were, before pulling the gun(s). If I had shot before they turned I would have been legal, after they turned I wouldn't have. The time from pulling and them turning and leaving was at most 2 seconds. After I pulled I had time to decide how dangerous the situation was. Before I pulled we (I) were in danger. My decision, not theirs... after I pulled. I would rather be in control of that type of situation than have them in control, especially the second one with my wife and kids. But if you wish to not carry and hope nothing happens... that is YOUR decision. I have made mine.

The Big Dog's back

I call Bullspit.

looking around

Glad you and your old lady didn't get shot.....

grumpy

If the guys with weapons that came at us/me had a gun or guns the situation would have been different, the response would have been different. How it would be different would just be guessing. The only thing I KNOW is that you can't change one part of what happened and know what will happen, it would only be guessing.

Contango

What the article doesn't tell you is that in states that allow open carry, holders often have coffee klatches at Starbucks.

Guess it kinda makes some of the other customers nervous.