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Starbucks: Please leave your guns at home

The challenge coin minted by supporters of Starbucks’ previous policy of not banning guns from coffee shops. Now, Starbucks is asking gun owners to leave their weapons outside. (Ed Levine)
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The Starbucks coffee chain moved away from its neutral stance on guns in its stores Wednesday, publicly requesting that customers not bring weapons into its coffee shops. The announcement by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is not an outright ban, and in a video message he sent to employees on Tuesday he told them not to confront or try to eject any armed customers.

On Feb. 22, fans of guns and coffee staged their annual “Gun Owners Support Starbucks Day,” because Starbucks had decided not to take a position on guns in its stores, and simply abide by local laws. In 12 states, including Virginia, which allow “open carry” and another 16 states that are mostly “open carry,” Starbucks had resisted pressure from gun control activists who wanted guns banned.

In a letter to customers set to be published Thursday, Schultz wrote, “this is a request and not an outright ban…we want to give responsible gun owners a chance to respect our request — and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers.”

I asked Zack Hutson, a Starbucks spokesman, if the timing of this announcement had anything to do with the Washington Navy Yard shootings. “No,” he said. “Recent activities by groups on both sides of the gun debate have politicized and misrepresented our brand for their own benefit, while unwillingly thrusting our stores and partners in the middle of this increasingly uncivil debate. In response, we are respectfully requesting that Starbucks customers not bring weapons into our stores. We believe this is a reasonable approach that the majority of our customers will understand and appreciate.”

In the video, Schultz told employees that “guns should not be part of the Starbucks experience,” and that Starbucks had to “do what we believe is right for us, despite the fact that there will be people on both sides of the debate who will criticize us.”

Ed Levine, an executive member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, organized the “Gun Owners Support Starbucks Day” in Northern Virginia. He said activists on both sides of the gun rights issue “played a part in making Starbucks the battleground. They’re tired of it, basically, and said we don’t want guns in our shop.” He said he respected their position as a property owner, but “in the long run, I think Starbucks will feel it in the pocket a little bit. I’ll probably go to another coffee shop and I think a lot of gun owners will too.”

In Indianapolis, a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America applauded the move, saying it had launched a campaign in July pressuring Starbucks to eliminate guns from its stores. “This is a huge win for American moms who fought for this policy change, which will make Starbucks customers safer,” said Shannon Watts, founder of the group. “Because Starbucks is a business icon, this policy change represents a sea change in American culture, which is finally shifting away from allowing guns in public places.”

Here is Schultz’s letter and below is the video he sent to all Starbucks employees: