Visitors to the Starbucks website will find a new blog entry from CEO Howard Schultz: a letter written to the coffee chain’s gun-owning customers.
“Dear fellow Americans,” the letter greeted, “ few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate.”
In the months following the Newtown shooting and the resurgence of the gun control debate, Starbucks locations across America have strangely found themselves a site for political discourse. The coffee chain permits open carry in areas where it is legal to do so. It is a stance that some gun owners have taken as a sign of support from Starbucks and pro-gun demonstrators began to hold events in or near the coffeehouses. Shultz explains that Starbucks neither supports or opposes gun rights; their hands-off policy was simply part of the company’s search for a relaxed atmosphere in their stores.
“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,” Schultz said in the letter. “[…] 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.’ To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.”
Some Starbucks customers and employees say they are uncomfortable around open displays of firearms, while pro-gun activists maintain they are exercising a constitutional right. Schultz writes that gun control advocates have also had a hand in “ratcheting up the rhetoric and fiction,” leading to in-store confrontations.
Starbucks has long striven to stay out of the political arena, but Schultz’s letter is sure to displease at least some customers. In very careful words, Shultz requests that customers refrain from bringing firearms to Starbucks in the future.
It is, however, not an absolute ban. Gun owners who continue to bring—openly-carried or concealed—firearms into Starbucks locations will still be served.
“Why?” writes Shultz. “Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on.”
The Starbucks chief executive goes on to assure those invested in the gun control debate that the company is not taking sides and that the “legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores.”