Updated - Sept. 18, 11:45 a.m., EST
Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz wrote an open letter to fellow Americans on Tuesday with "a respectful request" that customers no longer bring firearms into its stores or outdoor seating areas.
In the letter, posted to the coffee company's blog, Schultz noted that while Starbucks has respected open-carry laws in states that allow residents to openly carry firearms in public, the debate over such rules has become "increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening." Pro- and anti-gun activists have held events in Starbucks stores and made it a place to hold arguments, which Schultz says is inappropriate.
Thousands have taken to Starbucks' Facebook page and the company's blog, claiming they will no longer visit the coffee chain because it's violating their constitutional rights and inviting criminals in. Others have responded, thanking Schultz, asking why a firearm is needed to visit Starbucks and telling pro-gun advocates that their absence will shorten lines.
The request is different from a ban, particularly because a ban would require Starbucks partners to potentially confront armed customers, which Schultz is not comfortable with, he wrote.
"For those who oppose 'open carry,' we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores," he wrote. "For those who champion 'open carry,' please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers."
Starbucks "did not expect to satisfy extreme activists on either side of this debate, however, we do believe the majority of our customers will agree that our approach is reasonable, and we hope that people will understand it even if they disagree," said Zack Hutson, a spokesman for Starbucks. "This is a request and not a ban. We will not put our partners in the uncomfortable position of enforcing this request, but we are being clear that weapons are not welcome in our stores. If customers choose not to abide by our request, we will serve them as we always have."
The request is not about Schultz's personal views, but about what's best for the company, he said.
Schultz declined to be interviewed.
Pro-gun activists began holding rallies at Starbucks locations this summer because of the company's compliance with open-carry laws, calling the events "Starbucks Appreciation Days," and adding a firearm to the chain's mermaid logo. Another group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, responded in August with a nationwide boycott of Starbucks.
"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,'" he wrote. "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."
The letter from Schultz comes weeks after a Newtown, Connecticut, coalition asked the CEO to change its policy of allowing guns to be carried into its stores.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Posted by Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive officer
Dear Fellow Americans,
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. That's why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.
From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a "third place" between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community. Our values have always centered on building community rather than dividing people, and our stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.
We appreciate that there is a highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America's gun laws, and we recognize the deep passion for and against the "open carry" laws adopted by many states. (In the United States, "open carry" is the term used for openly carrying a firearm in public.) For years we have listened carefully to input from our customers, partners, community leaders and voices on both sides of this complicated, highly charged issue.
Our company's longstanding approach to "open carry" has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don't exist. 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. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement—not by Starbucks and our store partners.
Recently, however, we've 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.
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.
I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? 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. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose "open carry," we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion "open carry," please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.
I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today's request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors.