Starbucks respectfully asks patrons not to bring guns to stores

With the nation still reeling from another mass shooting, Starbucks has made it clear that customers should enjoy their beverages unarmed.

Starbucks Corp. Chief Executive Howard Schultz has issued a public letter "respectfully requesting" customers to refrain from bringing guns into his stores.

It's not a flat-out ban. Enforcing such a prohibition "would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers," Schultz said. So don't expect signs discouraging firearms or employees asking gun-toting patrons to disarm.

But the policy change, announced less than two days after Navy contractor Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, shows the chain distancing itself from what Schultz called its misinterpreted reputation as a "champion of 'open carry'" — the laws in many states that allow individuals to display guns in public.

Schultz's letter to customers, released Tuesday night, follows moves by other private businesses such as Peet's Coffee & Tea to explicitly prohibit the open carrying of firearms.

Starbucks inadvertently had become an unofficial public forum for gun rights and gun control advocates alike in recent years. The chain, like many other eateries, allowed patrons to bring firearms into stores in states that permitted weapons to be carried in public.

But activists on both sides occasionally caused confrontations at the ubiquitous coffee shops, "ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting" Starbucks customers, Schultz wrote.

"To be clear: We do not want these events in our stores," he wrote.

Starbucks faced pressure from gun control groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to prohibit the open carrying of firearms.

The Moms Demand Action group cheered Starbucks' move. The coffee chain's example will help send public gun-toting the way of smoking in airplanes or unprosecuted drunk driving, the group said.

"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," said group founder Shannon Watts.

Ralph Fascitelli, spokesman for Washington CeaseFire, said the policy change was "just one step in a journey that still needs some more steps."

Fascitelli's group had been pressuring Starbucks for three years to ban the open carrying of firearms, delivering a petition with 40,000 signatures to the company along with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Grass-roots gun control groups, dismayed by the lack of action at the federal and state levels, have increasingly turned to businesses to enact gun control measures.

"It's a de facto strategy," Fascitelli said. "We've all but given up on government, whether at the national or state level, to do anything significant about it."

The National Rifle Assn. didn't respond to requests for comment on the Starbucks policy change.

Exactly how many restaurants have policies on firearms is unclear. The National Restaurant Assn. doesn't track members' gun policies.

Some chains such as Peet's and California Pizza Kitchen do not allow guests, with the exception of law enforcement personnel, to display firearms in their restaurants. California Pizza Kitchen explained in a statement that the brand is "a family oriented restaurant" and that management is "concerned that the open display of firearms would be particularly disturbing to children and their parents."

Buffalo Wild Wings has had a similar policy since 2009, saying in a statement that "that business practice has never been a comment on social or political issues."

But the majority of restaurant brands defer to local laws when setting gun policies.

Brinker International, owner of Chili's and Maggiano's Little Italy, said in a statement that its eateries "will not prevent anyone from dining in our restaurants if they carry a concealed or open handgun, where allowed by law."

Some businesses make it a point to welcome gun owners.

The Cajun Experience restaurant in Leesburg, Va., for instance, gives a 10% discount to diners with guns. On Thursdays at the Langtry Cafe in Brownsdale, Minn., there's a 25% discount.

California and five other states prohibit the open carrying of handguns in public places. Thirty-two states allow the open carrying of a handgun without a permit, and 12 states require some sort of licensing to be able to do so, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

As momentum for a federal gun control law has stalled, some local governments have taken action on gun control measures.

Last week, the Chicago City Council voted to ban concealed weapons in all restaurants and bars that sell liquor and indicated that it expected to face a lawsuit over the decision.

Last month, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn partnered with Washington CeaseFire to launch a program to help local businesses become "gun free zones." Dozens, including a Subway shop and a UPS store, have signed on.

In Newtown, Conn., where 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 children and six adults last December, Schultz's announcement was well received.

"We're obviously very pleased that he listened to the majority of his customers," said David Ackert, founder and chairman of Newtown Action Alliance, a gun control group made up of residents from Newtown.

On Wednesday, Newtown Action Alliance and other gun control groups were in Washington, calling on Congress to act on gun control legislation.

"To that point, it's a major step," Ackert said. "I would have liked to see an outright ban, but I could see the concern of asking employees to enforce a ban."

Gun rights groups ruffled feathers in Newtown when some gun owners planned a Starbucks Appreciation Day last month at a Starbucks near Sandy Hook Elementary.

The event was thwarted because the store closed a few hours early. That, however, didn't stop gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates from showing up anyway, and a small standoff occurred under a drizzly sky in the coffee shop's parking lot.

IBISWorld analyst Nima Samadi said he doesn't expect the policy "to have a substantive impact on earnings or revenue" for Starbucks' nearly 7,000 company-operated U.S. stores.

"Schultz didn't really take a strong stance one way or another — he was pretty much walking on the fence," he said. "They're not alienating a broad customer base — the customers they lose on one side they might gain elsewhere."

Starbucks stock rose $1.29, or nearly 2%, to close at $77.33 on Wednesday.

Twitter: @tiffhsulatimes, @rljourno

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