Facing Gun Issue, Starbucks Throws Up Its Hands

SAN FRANCISCO (March 3) — The Starbucks coffee chain announced today that it will continue letting customers openly wear unloaded handguns in its coffee shops.

At the same time, the company asked members of the “open carry” gun movement and their opponents to refrain from putting Starbucks in the firing line of the national debate over the right to bear arms.

“The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores,” the Seattle-based company said in a statement released to the media.

Forty-three states allow citizens to openly wear a handgun in public. State laws vary on whether the handgun must be unloaded.

Brady Campaign / CREDO
This logo is part of an effort by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to pressure Starbucks to ban guns in its stores.
The informal open-carry movement apparently originated in Virginia several years ago but has come to unlikely prominence in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In recent months, Bay Area gun advocates have staged frequent open-carry “meet-ups” at Starbucks coffee shops and other restaurants. Some of the events have attracted dozens of men and women wearing handguns.

Last weekend, about 20 members of the movement — 12 of them sporting guns — came to Presidio National Park in San Francisco to pick up trash at scenic Baker Beach.

“We decided to do a serious activity while educating the public about responsible firearm ownership,” said Jon Schwartz, a leader of the informal movement. He was wearing a Smith & Wesson .45-caliber automatic on his left hip.

“It’s not just law enforcement and criminals that have guns but law-abiding citizens as well,” he said.

Schwartz, like other participants in open-carry events, was carrying two magazines on his belt with the maximum 10 bullets each. It takes about two seconds for him to load his weapon.

In California, much of the open-carry movement is focused on protesting county rules that sharply restrict the number of concealed weapon permits that are issued.

Bill Shelbrick, who also took part in the beach cleanup, said many of the open-carry advocates are former police officers and members of the military who believe they can protect themselves and the people around them by carrying weapons.

For Shelbrick, an electrician who said he once worked as a police officer in a Pennsylvania township, wearing his Ruger 9 mm automatic is an attempt to show the public that law-abiding citizens can go around armed.

“It’s my right and I want to exercise my right,” he said. “I think everybody should. We are not the gun-toting crazies that anti-gun organizations make us out to be.”

The sight of armed men drinking a venti latte at a Starbucks or dining out at a restaurant can be unsettling for some customers.

Police are frequently called to the scene of open-carry events, where they typically check to make sure all weapons are unloaded and in plain sight.

For business owners, open-carry events can create a dilemma. Employees risk offending armed customers by asking them to leave. But other patrons might walk out because of the presence of weapons.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen have banned customers from wearing handguns on their premises. But Starbucks has allowed the practice to continue in the states where open carry is legal.

Richard C. Paddock for AOL
Jon Schwartz, a leader in the movement to allow people to carry guns in public, picks up trash in San Francisco during a recent open-carry event. He was wearing a handgun on his left hip. He said such events promote responsible firearms ownership.
As a result, Starbucks has come under fire from gun-control advocates, particularly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has urged the chain to ban guns on its premises.

“Tell Starbucks: Espresso Shots, Not Gunshots,” the group says on its Web site. “The practice of packing heat in places like Starbucks is intimidating and could be potentially dangerous to our families and communities — and it must be stopped.”

Last month, the Brady campaign sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz urging him to reverse the company’s policy. The campaign noted that three Starbucks employees were shot and killed at a Washington, D.C., outlet in 1997 during a robbery attempt.

“These gatherings of armed individuals have provoked a strong and adverse reaction from members of the public who are appalled that coffee shops and restaurants would allow guns on their premises,” the letter said.

Starbucks did not cite the Brady Campaign by name in its statement today, but appeared to be responding to the anti-gun group.

“We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding the issue of open-carry weapons laws,” the company said. “Advocacy groups from both sides of this issue have chosen to use Starbucks as a way to draw attention to their positions.”

The company noted that if it prohibited weapons in its shop, its employees would have to ask law-abiding citizens to leave, placing them in “an unfair and potentially unsafe position.” The statement also said the company is “extremely sensitive to the issue of gun violence in our society” but believes “that supporting local laws is the right way for us to ensure a safe environment for both partners and customers.”

Whether Starbucks’ attempt to disassociate itself from the issue will work remains to be seen.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I might think twice about having a large-scale event at Starbucks,” said Schwartz, the Bay Area open-carry advocate. “But I wouldn’t think twice about taking myself and my family and meeting a couple of friends for a great cup of coffee while participating in unloaded open carry.”

Originally appeared http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/facing-gun-issue-starbucks-throws-up-its-hands/19381679?sms_ss=email