After becoming involved in the heated gun control debate in the U.S., the CEO of the American coffee company Starbucks requested in an open letter late Tuesday that patrons stop bringing firearms into store locations. The letter did not, however, issue an outright ban on firearms in stores.
While several other coffee shops and grocery stores have outright policy bans on civilians carrying firearms in stores, such as Whole Foods and Peet's Coffee & Tea, Starbucks' past policy has been to follow local "open carry" laws for firearms, allowing customers to carry firearms in states where it is permitted and prohibiting it in states without open carry laws.
As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explains in his open letter, because his company does not explicity ban firearms in its stores, pro-gun activists have designated the company as being supportive of the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm. Groups went as far as staging "Starbucks Appreciation Days" at store locations to portray the company as being pro-gun. One of these days was scheduled for last month in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six faculty members were fatally shot by a gunman last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, the store decided to close down for the day before the event could take place.
Conversely, anti-gun activists have portrayed Starbucks as being pro-gun, with one group organizing "Skip Starbucks Saturdays" in which those supporting gun reform laws are supposed to go to a Starbucks competitor to show their disapproval of Starbucks' open carry policy.
Schultz wrote in his open letter that recently, his company has "seen the 'open carry' debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. 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 anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners," Schultz continued. "For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas-even in states where 'open carry' is permitted-unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel."
Schultz concluded the open letter by clarifying that Starbucks is not outright banning the open carrying of firearms in its locations, and patrons who do choose to continue carrying a firearm will not be asked to leave. He writes that making a clear ban on firearms would force his employees to confront patrons carrying a firearm, and he does not want to put them in that position.
The global coffee company will be running advertisements in major newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, on Thursday announcing its request. The advertisement will include Schultz's open letter that has also been posted on the company's website.
Schultz has not been shy of speaking out on social issues in the past. The company's CEO has willingly taken part in national debates regarding same-sex marriage and the U.S. national debt. Schultz has said that this debate is not about him and his personal beliefs, but rather for the welfare of his company and customers. He told Reuters that in recent months, customers have been bringing guns into store locations, making other customers and employees uncomfortable.
"I'm not worried we're going to lose customers over this," Schultz told Reuters. "I feel like I've made the best decision in the interest of our company."
The company's delicate approach to its gun policy shows how highly debated the issue is in the U.S. The company's open letter attempts to walk a thin line to appease both gun control enthusiasts and pro-gun supporters.
"Both sides of the issue have staged events at Starbucks, so our company has been characterized as pro and anti-gun, but we're neither" Schultz told USA Today. "Very few issues are as emotional or as polarizing as this."
The gun control debate was re-ignited earlier this week when gunman Aaron Alexis opened fire in an office building at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. on Monday, killing 12 and injuring 14. President Obama lamented Monday's tragedy as "yet another mass shooting." In the past few years, the U.S. has also seen tragic mass shootings take place in elementary schools, movie theaters, and military bases.