- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2010

Dale Welch recently walked into a Starbucks in Virginia, handgun strapped to his waist, and ordered a banana Frappuccino with a cinnamon bun. He says the firearm drew a double-take from at least one customer, but not a peep from the baristas.

Mr. Welch’s foray into the coffeehouse was part of an effort by some gun owners to exercise and advertise their rights in states that allow people to openly carry firearms.

Even in some “open carry” states, businesses are allowed to ban guns in their stores. And some have, creating political confrontations with gun owners. But Starbucks, the largest chain targeted, has refused to take the bait, saying in a statement this month that it follows state and local laws and has its own safety measures in its stores.

“Starbucks is a special target because it’s from the hippie West Coast, and a lot of dedicated consumers who pay $4 for coffee have expectations that Starbucks would ban guns. And here they aren’t,” said John Bruce, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi who is an expert in gun policy.

Mr. Welch, a 71-year-old retired property manager who lives in Richmond, doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t bear arms while he gets caffeinated.



“I don’t know of anybody who would provide me with defense other than myself, so I routinely as a way of life carry a weapon - and that extends to my coffee shops,” he said.

The fight for retailers heated up in early January when gun enthusiasts in Northern California began walking into Starbucks and other businesses to test state laws that allow gun owners to carry weapons openly in public places. As it spread to other states, gun-control groups quickly complained about the parade of firearms in local stores.

Some were spontaneous, with just one or two gun owners walking into a store. Others were organized parades of dozens of gun owners walking into restaurants with their firearms proudly at their sides.

In one case, about 100 activists bearing arms had planned to go to a California Pizza Kitchen in Walnut Creek, Calif., but after it became clear they weren’t welcome they went to another restaurant. That chain and Peet’s Coffee & Tea are among the businesses that have banned customers with guns.

Just as shops can deny service to barefoot customers, restaurants and stores in some states can declare their premises gun-free zones.

The advocacy group OpenCarry.org, a leading group encouraging the demonstrations, applauded Starbucks in a statement for “deciding not to discriminate against lawful gun carriers.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has responded by circulating a petition that soon attracted 26,000 signatures demanding that Starbucks “offer espresso shots, not gunshots” and declare its coffeehouses “gun-free zones.”

Gun-control advocates hope the coffeehouse firearms displays end up aggravating more people than they inspire.

“If you want to dress up and go out and make a little political theater by frightening children in the local Starbucks, if that’s what you want to spend your energy on, go right ahead,” said Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady campaign. “But going out and wearing a gun on your belt to show the world you’re allowed to is a little juvenile.”

Gun-control advocates have been on the defensive. Their opponents have trumpeted fears that gun rights would erode under a Democrat-led White House and Congress, but President Obama and his top allies have largely been silent on issues such as reviving an assault weapons ban or strengthening background checks at gun shows.

Gun-rights groups are looking to build on a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban, and cheered legislation that took effect Monday allowing licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks. Mr. Obama signed that legislation as part of a broader bill.

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