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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has penned an open letter to gun owners asking they no longer bring guns into stores. While the coffee chain won’t be officially banning guns from the store, Mr. Schultz says the stores have become part of the gun debate, and he doesn’t want Starbucks to play a role in the tug-of-war.

Says the CEO:

“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.”

With all due respect to Mr. Schultz, I’ve been unsettled and upset by some of the piercings I’ve seen on my local baristas. I’ve been unsettled and upset by the sight of a very large woman in very small yoga pants standing directly in front of me in line or the dude in spandex bicycle shorts for that matter. If your top speed is five miles an hour through the streets of Alexandria, VA, aerodynamics aren’t really one of your big concerns.

I understand that when I enter your store, I’ll likely be coming in contact with lots of folks who make different lifestyle choices than I do. It’s cool with me. But if you truly want folks to be respectful of others as citizens and neighbors, you might start by not asking gun owners to go quietly back into the closet as long as they’re in your stores.

I do understand what Schultz is trying to do. He’s tired of gun-control advocates protesting his stores but he also doesn’t want to alienate gun owners. He’d like the open-carry events at Starbucks to stop, he’d like the chain to get out of the spotlight in the gun-control debate and he’d like to keep selling lots of expensive coffee to gun lovers and haters alike. Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want and, unless Starbucks wants to declare itself a place where politics is verboten, it shouldn’t run away when the debate leads to its doors.

I appreciate Mr. Schultz’s attempt to placate both sides, but again, with all due respect, I think that’s the wrong approach. The smart decision would have been to try and do what was in line with the values of Starbucks as a corporation. Starbucks says it has a commitment to the community rooted in “the belief that we can balance profitability and a social conscience”. A strong community is home to rigorous debate open to both sides. A commitment to the community, to our community, from a corporation that wants to serve a “social conscience” should at least champion free speech, even if it wants to stay neutral in the gun-control debate. And that’s what these open-carry events (and the anti-gun protests) are … political speech.

If I were Howard Schultz, I wouldn’t have tried to extricate my company from the debate. I would have instead embraced the chance to play a positive role. I would have invited local pro-gun and anti-gun activists inside to formally debate in Starbucks shops across the country on certain evenings, instead of demonstrating outside on a weekend. You get to sell coffee (profitability) and help start a conversation instead of a shouting match (social conscience). Starbucks could have used this as an opportunity to demonstrate real corporate leadership.

I do appreciate the fact that Starbucks isn’t instituting a ban on firearms in the store, but based on the tone of Mr. Schultz’s letter, it appears the chain is willing to do that if it believes its request has not been honored. To that end, I’ll honor Mr. Schultz’s request not to bring my legally carried firearm in his stores anymore. I’ll take my business to those stores who truly don’t care about my status as a gun owner but who see me as a valued customer.

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