The coffee chain Starbucks bans customers from carrying guns openly in its stores across the United States.
Another shooting tragedy, this time in Washington, has shocked America and led to more pressure from anti-gun campaigners for corporate leaders to speak out.
Now, in an open letter, the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has declared that anyone openly carrying a gun will no longer be welcome in his stores.
He expressed his concern that the coffee chain has been thrust into the midst of such a polarised debate – but admitted “the presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers”.
Starbucks will be taking out advertising space tomorrow in leading newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, displaying the letter in full. Employees were alerted to the plan on Tuesday, in a memo which advised them not to confront any customer carrying a gun.
The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers. Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
The tone of the letter reflects the difficult balancing act between trying to negotiate an issue which has sharply divided the country, between die-hard advocates of gun rights and those who are outraged by the ever increasing toll of gun crime victims.
Until now, the coffee chain has allowed customers with licenced guns into stores in the 12 states which currently have “open carry” laws on their statute books – and they’re still stopping short of an outright ban.
According to Schultz, “We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement – not by Starbucks and our store partners.”
But his firm has been under huge pressure from the gun control lobby, accused of “aggressively supporting the pro-gun agenda” of the National Rifle Association. Several other major chains have prohibited firearms, like Whole Foods, IKEA and Peets Coffee.
All this meant that pro-gun advocates of the open carry law had been staging their own political events there, in what they called “Starbucks appreciation days”. They described it as a chance to “thank Starbucks for standing up for our right to bear arms”.
One website has even produced its own range of products depicting the trademark Starbucks siren holding a gun in both hands, under the slogan “I love guns and coffee”.
According to the group, “just like peanut butter and jelly, guns and coffee is as American as apple pie”.
The gun control lobby has been no less vociferous, harnessing the power of direct action in an effort to persuade the coffee chain to change tack. The Brady campaign handed in a 33,000 name petition requesting a ban on weapons.
Just like peanut butter and jelly, guns and coffee is as American as apple pie. Pro-gun rights group slogan
Another group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was set up the day after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, held what it called “Skip Starbucks Saturdays”, insisting if the company could ban smoking around its stores, it could ban guns too.
A branch in Newtown closed early to avoid the prospect of a gun appreciation group trying to hold an event there.
Now it seems the giant corporation has ended its traditional policy of silence in the gun debate: customers are welcome in our stores, but guns are not. As for business – Mr Schultz told Reuters he was not worried about the prospect of losing customers. This, he said, was the right decision in the interests of his firm.
Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News