By Igor VolskyStarbucks CEO Howard Schultz has written an open letter asking customers to stop bringing guns into his 7,000 coffee shops — just two days after a man who had been enlisted in the Naval Reserves allegedly shot and killed 12 people at Washington DC, Navy Yard.
The decision is a reversal for the company, which had previously abided by local “open carry” laws, allowing patrons to bring guns into coffee shops where they were permitted to do so under state law. But the growing frequency with which advocates appeared at the shops with guns to celebrate “Starbucks Appreciation Days” alarmed Schultz, who argued that the demonstrations made some customers feel uncomfortable and gave off the mistaken impression that the company opposed gun safety measures.
Last month, San Antonio police broke up an “open carry” rally outside of a local Starbucks “after passersby complained about the three men and their rifles.” While the action was legal, “San Antonio police Chief William McManus explained that the gun holder can still be charged with disorderly conduct if anyone, at any point, feels threatened.”
“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 wrote in the public letter. He stressed that the new policy is “not an outright ban,” which would “potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on.”
Gun safety advocates have also held counter demonstrations to protest Starbucks’ approach to “open carry” through “Skip Starbucks Saturday.” The events urged “the public to get their caffeine fix somewhere other than Starbucks” and “post a photo of themselves enjoying a non-Starbucks coffee.”
“This is a huge win for American moms who fought for this policy change, which will make Starbucks customers safer,” Moms Demand Action, the group behind the effort, said in a statement. “Much like smoking was once accepted on airplanes and drunk driving was abided without severe penalties, it is becoming passé for gun advocates – who may or may not have background checks, training or permits – to bring their weapons to public places.”
Schultz has long been vocal about his company’s support for progressive causes. He has supported marriage equality, and has suggested that opponents of same-sex marriage can simply sell their Starbucks stock. He has also publicly come out in support of raising the minimum wage and has indicated that the company has no plans to slash workers’ hours or cut employee benefits in response to Obamacare.