Starbucks CEO to customers: Please don't bring guns into our stores

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
FILE - In this  Wednesday, March 20, 2013, file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the company's annual shareholders meeting,in Seattle, Wash. Starbucks Corp. reports quarterly financial results after the market closes on Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
.

View gallery

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz is asking customers not to bring their guns into the stores but says he is not banning them.

In an open letter to customers posted on the Starbucks website late Tuesday, Schultz explained the company had been "thrust unwillingly" into the middle of the gun debate, after gun rights group announced plans for a "Starbucks Appreciation Day" to recognize the Seattle-based chain's policy of allowing gun owners to bring in their weapons where permitted by state law.

"That’s why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas," Schultz explained. "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."

He continued:

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.
But Schultz said customers who ignore his request to leave their guns at home would not be asked to leave.

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.

Schultz added:

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.

The company said it plans to buy ad space to publish the letter on Thursday in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today.

In an interview with CNN, Schultz said the company is "not pro- or anti-gun."

"We've seen advocates on both sides of this debate use Starbucks as a staging ground," Schultz said.

This is not the first time the Starbucks CEO has found himself in the middle of a frothy sociopolitical debate. Schultz was a vocal supporter of gay marriage rights, banned smoking within 25 feet of the chain's stores and, in 2011, encouraged fellow business owners to “withhold political campaign contributions until a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached.”

But the latest letter, coming a day after the deadly Navy Yard shootings, will certainly open Starbucks up to even more critics.

"I know there will be criticism of the company and me personally," Schultz said. "We've tried to be as empathetic and as sensitive as possible.

"I don't think this is about Howard Schultz," he added. "This is about Starbucks Coffee Company, our customers, and whether I am or am not a gun owner is not the issue."

Below, Schultz's full letter:

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.

Sincerely,

Howard Schultz

View Comments (2970)