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Latte With An Extra Shot? As Gun Lovers Hold Armed Rallies At Starbucks, Howard Schultz Faces Call To Ban Weapons

August 12, 2013

By Clare O’Connor, Forbes

They’ve specifically refused to listen on this issue. It’s gone too far now. They’re not just allowing guns in their stores. They’re becoming a meeting place for people with weapons to congregate. There are more than 30 states where you don’t need training or a permit to open carry.

-Shannon Watts, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America

0x600Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has never shied away from politics. In February, he stood up to an anti-gay marriage activist at the coffee giant’s annual meeting, telling him to sell his shares if he disagreed with Starbucks’ support of equal rights.

Now, Schultz — normally seen as a progressive — faces pressure from gun control advocates as Starbucks increasingly becomes a meeting spot for pro-gun rallies. The country’s biggest coffee company allows customers to bring loaded firearms inside Starbucks outlets in states where openly carrying guns is legal. While this is a longstanding policy, it isn’t widely known. Activists on both sides of the debate plan to change that.

On July 28th, around 6o people carrying handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles held a pro-gun event in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota branch of Starbucks. Attendees had permission from both Starbucks’ local manager and the company’s corporate headquarters in Seattle to hold the event.

Days later, on August 9th, gun activists held a nationwide Starbucks Appreciation Day, taking to Starbucks en masse with their weapons and posting hundreds of photos via social media, many accompanied by captions thanking the coffee chain for supporting the Second Amendment.

One of the outlets targeted by gun enthusiasts: the Starbucks in Newtown, Connecticut, site of December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Newtown Starbucks closed early on Friday “out of respect”, said the company’s head of U.S. retail in a statement, but not before the incident made national headlines.

Predictably, the backlash following Starbucks Appreciation Day was immediate, with customers threatening a boycott on the company’s Facebook wall as the chain’s social media representatives did damage control, posting repeated notes clarifying their stance. While Starbucks did distance itself from the event, noting it wasn’t an official organizer, a spokesperson said the chain will continue to allow guns inside outlets in “open carry” states.

“We’re following the law, encouraging customers on both sides of the debate to reach out to lawmakers,” Starbucks’ Zack Hutson told Forbes.

For Shannon Watts, founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Starbucks’ equivocating isn’t good enough. Watts formed the organization the day after the Newtown murders (“a wake-up call,” she said) and now boasts over 100,000 members, with chapters in every state. Moms Demand Action is putting pressure on Starbucks and preparing a campaign of “good old grassroots activism,” said Watts.

“We’re moms — we make 80% of spending decisions,” she said. “We don’t want to expose our kids to loaded assault weapons while we’re getting lattes.”

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