Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is appropriate public behavior?

Yesterday the CEO of Starbucks penned an open letter to the American people which requested, in the spirit of an old Johnny Cash song - to "leave your guns at home."

Schultz says that Starbucks will not ban people, in open carry states, from bringing their weapons to coffee.  He is asking customers in these states to respect the company's wishes.

When I first heard about this I thought "another politically correct CEO" and that may be the case.   But in his public comments Schultz has repeatedly said Starbucks is not a policy organization.  Schultz and some of the news coverage of the story has suggested that gun advocates have used Starbucks to promote their point of view.   And indeed, some gun advocates have had their pictures taken in a store.
I can understand how some people would feel uncomfortable in the presence of a gun toting coffee drinker.

I live in a state where at least a majority of legislators have no appreciation of gun rights - so I have missed scenes like the one at the right.   I am not sure why it is necessary to bring a weapon like the one in the picture into any store. Were I to live in a right to carry state, it is not likely that I would bring a weapon like the one in the picture into any store. (If indeed I owned one.)

I love to fish but would probably not wear my waders into a Starbucks nor would I carry my rod or my net there.   It just does not seem appropriate.

I think Schultz's judgment about whether the store could be successful in establishing an outright ban (which as a private business they should have the right to do) is correct.   But the letter is equally ineffective.  It won't make gun owners happy and because he did not propose an outright ban - it will not make anti-Second Amendment advocates pleased either.  Should Starbucks make a strong statement or establish a strong policy prohibiting  guns in states where there are open carry laws, I would be less likely to patronize their stores. 

As I read the letter, though, I remain concerned that while it is well written, it presents a tremendous opportunity to be misinterpreted.   It just looks to me like he did not think out his options very carefully.

Schultz's Letter is reprinted in full below - 

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.


Howard Schultz

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