Starbucks Makes the Right Call on Gun Rights

Starbucks (SBUX), long home to an ultra-hip and ultra-liberal clientele, is the last company anyone would consider a gun-rights advocate. But the giant coffee chain now is in the middle of a Second Amendment fight that it didn't seek and probably wishes it could avoid.

A group of gun-rights advocates are holding meetings at Starbucks locations throughout the San Francisco area with their weapons in plain sight. They're known as "open-carry" backers, and they believe people should be able to carry guns in public, provided that they follow applicable laws. Getting permits to carry concealed weapons can be far more difficult.

Starbucks, or any other private-private property owner, can ban customers from carrying weapons onto their premises. The company, though, decided to leave the open-carry customers alone. And for that it deserves praise for taking the correct stand on a very controversial issue.

"We Comply With Local Laws"

Gun-control advocates, including the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, cried foul and noted that the "open carry" advocates were kicked out of California Pizza Kitchen (CPKI), Peet's Coffee and Tea (PEET) and the California restaurant chain Buckhorn Grill. The New York Times noted in a recent editorial that "more than two dozen states also have allowed themselves to be bullied by the gun lobby into adopting similarly dangerous law."

Like any business, Starbucks doesn't want to needlessly anger customers, particularly as the Seattle-based chain tries to fend off heightened competition from larger rivals such as McDonald's (MCD) during these turbulent economic times. Investors are betting on Starbucks and have sent its shares up more than 159% over the past year.

"While we deeply respect the views of all our customers, Starbucks' long-standing approach to this issue remains unchanged," the company says. "We comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve. In this case, 43 of the 50 U.S. states have open-carry weapon laws."

Why Pick on Starbucks?

It's that simple -- and that complicated. If customers are following the law and not being disruptive, why should they be forced to leave Starbucks or any other public place. Even Brady Center spokesman Peter Hamm agrees that the open-carry Starbucks customer aren't breaking the law. Nonetheless, the long-time foe of the National Rifle Association accuses Starbucks of kowtowing to the whims of "extremists." The Wall Street Journal notes that it is legal in California to carry unloaded weapons almost anywhere.

If customers don't like the policy, they can buy their java elsewhere. Starbucks can always change its mind if business drops off. It's unfair to pick on the coffee chain. Walmart (WMT), Home Depot (HD), Best Buy (BBY) and Barnes & Noble (BKS) take similar positions, according to The Journal. Officials from Walmart, Home Depot and Best Buy couldn't be reached for comment. A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman confirmed the paper's account.

John Pierce, co-founder and spokesman for the OpenCarry.Org says his organization is interested in sticking up for the rights of responsible gun owners. He also likened his opponents to people who were against interracial marriage in decades past and gay marriage today.

"An awful lot of gun owners are socially liberal," says Pierce, a law student whose preferred weapon is a Glock 17 model nine-millimeter, semi-automatic pistol. "People fear that which is different and new to them."

Let's All Get Along

Likening gun rights to gay rights seems like a stretch, but Pierce raises a legitimate issue because people can always avoid what they find distasteful . Gun-rights activists did go too far last year when they showed up at speeches given by President Obama with their weapons. Such action raises serious security issues. I'm also not keen on the idea of the public owning assault weapons. Nonetheless, even the most ardent gun opponents should favor people being treated fairly.

Indeed, the sight of a group of gun-toting civilians at a Starbucks likely would give me more jitters than a cafe latte with an extra shot of espresso, but I have no right to tell them to leave. I probably would wind up staying, figuring if I don't bother them, they wouldn't bother me. Isn't that the American way?
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