Starbucks seems an unlikely dueling ground in the national debate over guns, but the ubiquitous coffee chain Friday will once again find itself squarely in the cross hairs in the battle between gun control and gun rights advocates.
More than 2,000 gun rights activists plan to visit their local Starbucks with their sidearms for a national “Starbucks Appreciation Day.”
The Seattle-based chain takes no formal position on guns but has a corporate policy of following applicable state gun laws — including “open carry” laws in more than 40 states that allow permit-holding patrons to bring their loaded weapons into the shop while they sip their lattes and caramel macchiatos.
Gun owners began staging the appreciation days a few years ago when the company faced pressure from gun control advocates to ban firearms from his stores.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz resisted the move, saying in one interview, “I’m not a politician. I run a coffee company and we’re trying to abide by the laws in which we do business.”
It’s not the first time gun owners have staged the armed Starbucks sip-in, but it is the first major demonstration in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings that killed 20 schoolchildren and the first since President Obama’s push for major gun control legislation stalled on Capitol Hill.
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Plans for a pro-gun display at the Newtown Starbucks has added another layer of tension to the day.
“Our community is still healing and we find it reprehensible that they are picking Newtown to rally,” David Ackert, spokesman for the Newtown Action Alliance, said in a statement. “It is disturbing to think that tomorrow night you and your children may be sitting in Starbucks when people carrying guns walk through the door.”
Gun rights advocates insist they will carry on the campaign to thank Starbucks for “standing up for our right to bear arms,” as organizers put it in a Facebook page dedicated to the event.
“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of this. It’s already been put to bed about two years ago,” David Anderson, founder of I Love Guns and Coffee, a prime organizer of the Starbucks appreciation movement, said in a phone interview Thursday.
Mr. Anderson said the movement arose in response to what he said were rising threats to Second Amendment rights. His organization sells products such as T-shirts and tire covers using a modified version of the famous green Starbucks logo — the iconic twin-tailed mermaid in the center is shown holding two guns.
Students for Concealed Carry will post a message about the meeting at Starbucks on its website. Kurt Mueller, director of public relations for the group, said he will “certainly be attending” a Starbucks on Friday to mark the occasion. Students for Concealed Carry lobbies for the right to be armed on a college campus and has about 30,000 members, the vast majority of whom are current students.
Shannon Watts will not be one of those celebrating the occasion.
Ms. Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded the day after the Newtown shooting. Starting as a Facebook page, the organization eight months later claims 100,000 members with a chapter in every state.
“You could be enjoying a latte and scones with your kids and someone next to you could have a gun loosely in their pocket or out on a table,” Ms. Watts said during a phone interview.
Gun control advocates note that Starbucks has no qualms about banning smoking in its coffeehouses, even in states where it is legal, but is fastidiously neutral on the question of guns. Guns are banned in the company’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, and the chain bars employees from carrying guns, even in open carry states.
But the company insists it will not take sides — pro or con — in the gun debate.
“These events are not endorsed by Starbucks. That said, our stores are gathering places for the communities we serve and we respect the diverse views of our costumers,” Starbucks spokesman Zach Hutson said in a phone interview. “We comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve, abiding by laws that permit ‘open carry.’”
Mr. Anderson, the gun rights activist, plans to go to Starbucks Friday with two or three colleagues. He said he is not looking to make a scene but enjoys supporting companies that support others.
“It’s a message: I love guns and coffee,” he said.