In case you missed it, last Saturday was "Starbucks Appreciation Day." No, it was not a gesture of support from lovers of strong coffee (like me). The "appreciation" was on behalf of Americans who believe it is their sacred right to have a handgun with them wherever they go - even to carry it openly to make sure the rest of us know who are the real defenders of the Second Amendment.
The "open carry" movement has been convening groups of its followers to meet up at restaurants and coffee shops, with pistols, revolvers and ammo hanging from their hips. Two major retail chains who were "open carry" targets (so to speak) - California Pizza Kitchen and Peet's Coffee & Tea - reacted quickly by announcing strict "no guns" policies. Starbucks, on the other hand, has earned the "appreciation" of the gun-toters by becoming the "safe house" for the "open carry" movement.
Starbucks' official response has been to offer the assurance that it will "continue to adhere closely to local, state and federal laws" on this issue. This is an evasion, not an answer.
The fact is that Starbucks would also "adhere closely to local, state and federal laws" by prohibiting guns on its premises. The law allows Starbucks and other retail businesses to make their own policy on guns. Starbucks has made a choice to recognize the rights of a few gun extremists to show off their weaponry in its stores and ignore the rights of the vast majority of its customers to enjoy their coffee and muffins free of the fear, intimidation and risk of violence inherent in the "open carry" experience. Starbucks seeks to hide behind "local, state and federal law," but in truth, there is no place for it to hide.
For a glimpse into its future as the corporate best friend of the gun-toters, Starbucks should consider the experience of a California restaurant chain, Buckhorn Grill. On February 6, a Buckhorn restaurant in Walnut Creek, California, was visited by about 100 men carrying their highly-visible guns. A recent New York Times editorial said this must have "looked like a casting call for a Sam Pekinpah shoot-'m-up." Shortly thereafter, Buckhorn's management made clear that the restaurant had always had a "no weapons" policy and apologized for the "misunderstanding" that had led to the "open carry" event. How many gun carriers need to show up at Starbucks for the company to realize what a nightmare it is creating for its customers and employees?
The issue here is much bigger than Starbucks and involves more than just "open carry." Starbucks' new gun-wielding friends envision an America in which guns permeate American society. A pitched battle is underway that will determine whether their vision is realized. It started with the gun lobby's largely successful campaign to make it easier to obtain a license to carry concealed weapons in public. Now the "gun rights" extremists are trying to break down the barriers limiting where concealed weapons can be carried. As of this week, with the shameful acquiescence of the Obama Administration, loaded guns will be allowed in national parks for the first time since they were banned by the Reagan Administration. In over twenty states, the gun lobby has tried, and thankfully failed, to pass legislation to force colleges and universities to allow guns on campus. The battle continues.
It may be that "open carry" will turn out to be the "secondhand smoke" of the gun debate. On the tobacco issue, it was one thing for people to subject themselves to the unhealthy effects of cigarettes. It was quite another for the effects of smoking to be so visibly inflicted on non-smokers. Smoking in public became a new, and transforming, focus of the debate, leading to far-reaching restrictions on where people can smoke.
On the gun issue, although the carrying of concealed weapons in public subjects everyone to enormous risk, the risk is, by definition, concealed. Perhaps this is why my tobacco-growing home state of Virginia now no longer allows restaurant customers to smoke, but will allow them to carry concealed weapons (and may now be poised to allow them even to carry concealed in restaurants that serve alcohol!). "Open carry," unlike concealed carry, confronts everyone with the risks of guns in public, in a very direct and highly-visible way. We can only hope that the "open carry" movement will backfire, bringing our country back from the brink of the "guns everywhere" vision of America now being foisted on us by the NRA and the most dedicated supporters of its extremist agenda.
Over 27,000 Americans so far have signed the "no guns" petition circulated by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and CREDO Action calling on Starbucks to keep guns out of its stores. Please join them by going to www.bradycampaign.org. Tell Starbucks that, in your America, parents ought to be able to take their families into coffee shops without facing the intimidation and danger of guns.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's new book, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy.