Guns at a Starbucks in … Newtown, Conn.

August 12, 2013

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

An earlier version of this item stated, in the headline and text below, that gun-rights activists brought machine guns to an event at a Starbucks in Newtown, Conn. This version has been corrected..  

“Doesn’t anyone have any shame any more?” is a comment heard quite a bit these days. Except it’s usually reserved for politicians with unseemly sexual pasts (or presents) hubristically seeking — or insisting on holding onto — office: Weiner, Spitzer, Filner. Or spoiled entertainers gone wild – Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown, Lindsay Lohan — who treat Malibu rehab, court appearances (while looking somber in chic duds), and endearing turns hosting TV talk shows as a revolving door of opportunity to just go out and do it again.

But real shame-worthy behavior that has become fatalistically accepted is this: Acts of aggressive sadism toward parents of murdered children, trotted out as legitimate protests for constitutional rights.

Sorry to narrow-cast here, but the prime repeat defender is the NRA and its splinter groups. Some examples: After Columbine, Tom Mauser, the father of murdered teen Daniel Mauser, walked, wearing Daniel’s shoes, to an NRA meeting to peacefully offer his and his son’s suggestions to close the loopholes in the Brady Bill so that guns wouldn’t fall in the wrong hands. (Sadly, and eerily, Mauser and his son had discussed doing this just before the mass shooting that claimed Daniel’s young life.) At that meeting,Tom Hauser was vehemently shouted at and threatened by NRA members.

NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre’s horrible, tasteless statements after the unspeakable horror at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (six- and seven-year-olds murdered; in our darkest moments, did any of us imagine that?) were typical blame-the-gun-control people. But it was the Internet targeting of a Sandy Hook victim’s father – his private financial records hacked and thrust online, his debt gleefully paraded – by the NRA that was especially sickening. More, the gesture seemed to borrow from the Saxby Chambliss-vs.-Max Cleland playbook: Turn things on their head. Go out of your way to find someone who has really suffered and – shamelessly — make that person the devil. (In 2002, when Republican Chambliss was running for his Georgia Senate seat against Democrat Cleland, who lost three limbs fighting in Vietnam, Chambliss equated Cleland with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and proudly defended the comparison, with Ann Coulter joining in to heap mockery on Cleland.

Make those who suffered the most the bad guys and then go an extra mile to rub it in their faces. That’s the game.

This happened last Friday in Newtown, but it happened so fast, it’s already out of the news.

National gun rights people named Friday, Aug. 9, “Starbucks Appreciation Day.”  They did so not because they are latte-with-soy-milk aficionados or avid collectors of the vintage confessional soft rock music and the questing-internationalist and healing-oriented books the coffee chain used to feature at its point of purchase.  Rather, they did so because Starbucks – unlike, for example, Peet’s Coffee, Ikea, and California Pizza Kitchen — refuses to ban guns in its venues, preferring to hew to local policy. If a state or jurisdiction allows weapons, concealed or otherwise, to be carried into retail stores, the Starbucks franchises in that state will allow that, too.

Even those of you who didn’t get wind of this fleetingly covered news story can guess the “Grandma, what sharp teeth you have …” hidden agenda – or, at the very least, sneaky opportunity — that “Starbucks Appreciation Day” was about. It was a chance for gun activists to come not just to any Starbucks but to the Newtown Starbucks, a mile and a half from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people – the large majority very young children – were gunned to death eight months earlier.

They came on Friday packing heat. Why? Why come brandishing guns to a pleasant little coffee-and-snack place where parents take their children after school? Was that so necessary? The act was – there is no other word for it – sadistic.

“How can they even think of being here? It’s so disgusting and heartless! It’s so in-your-face!” said a local woman, Barbara Kraushaar, who was part of a counter-group of Newtown residents who came to meet the gun-toters in the parking lot told the New York Times. “Our community is still healing, and we find it reprehensible that they are picking Newtown to rally,” was the response from the Newtown Action Alliance, which is devoted to making sure that what happened there on Dec. 14 never happens again.

To its credit, the Newtown Starbucks closed four hours early on Friday, so the gun activists couldn’t enter and make a scene. (The gun activists pronounced themselves angry at Starbucks for doing so.)

Those in the community who have worked for healing were also appalled. With his wife and musical partner, Tina Weymouth, longtime Connecticut resident Chris Frantz, singer and musician of the fabled Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club, last winter recorded a group of Newtown children singing “Over The Rainbow,” with all proceeds going to Sandy Hook victims. Frantz says, “It’s hard to imagine that Starbucks would permit gun toting in their stores,” Frantz told me via e-mail. “What come next? Starbucks Ammunition?”

And Rabbi Herbert N. Brockman, of New Haven’s Congregation Mishkan Israel, who also teaches at Yale Divinity School, in an e-mail response says that the gun-toters who came to the Starbucks “should remember the Biblical-prophetic call to `beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks….’  It seems that for reasons unfathomable, perhaps nefarious, some choose to do the opposite: beat their plowshares into swords. It is a terrible human tragedy, for we have the moral compass to know what is right. When the NRA called to put more guns in schools, I suggested we put more teachers in gun stores. This madness has to stop.”

Included is the “madness” of gun activists intentionally targeting the already victimized, and the most victimized of those victims — grieving families of gunned-down children.

If we don’t call stunts like parading around Newtown’s Starbucks with pistols “shameless,” then what is shamefulness? And, whatever our views about Starbucks or responsible gun ownership, if we don’t call sadism sadism, then the behavior the Newtown Alliance calls “reprehensible” will just keep happening.

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Annie Groer · August 10, 2013