- - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Trying to ease itself out of the rancorous national debate over guns, Seattle-based coffee chain giant Starbucks found itself squarely back in the crosshairs Tuesday.

Gun rights groups expressed unhappiness and resignation over an open letter this week from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz asking — but not demanding — that patrons not brings their weapons into the chain’s stores. Mr. Schultz was trying to quietly put an end to the “Starbucks Appreciation Days” staged by armed gun rights advocates expressing their gratitude for the chain’s policy allowing guns to be openly carried inside.

Cam Edwards, host of the NRA-sponsored radio show “Cam & Company,” explained in a piece Wednesday for the conservative website Rare.us why he was “done with Starbucks (at least for now).”

“I’ll honor Mr. Schultz’s request not to bring my legally carried firearm in his stores anymore,” Mr. Edwards wrote. “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 valued customer.”

But David Anderson, the founder of the group “I Love Guns and Coffee,” took a more measured response.

“I don’t agree with everything in the letter,” said Mr. Anderson, who participated in a number of Starbucks Appreciation Days, “but it brought up an important point. With a right comes responsibility.”

Alluding to guns rights activists who brought long guns to a Texas Starbucks last month, Mr. Anderson said that pro-gun activists were “kidding themselves if they didn’t think that they were going to get a reaction out of Starbucks. Every action has a reaction.”

Mr. Schultz revealed that the company will run full-page ads in major newspapers, telling customers that guns are no longer welcome in its cafes. But Starbucks is stopping short of an outright ban.

“We are not pro-gun or anti-gun,” Mr. Schultz told The Associated Press, noting that customers will still be served if they choose to a carry gun.

In his letter, Mr. Schultz made clear that both sides have contributed to his request. “Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called ‘Starbucks Appreciation Days’ that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of ‘open carry’ [gun laws]. To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores,” he wrote. “Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.”

Gun control advocates praised the Starbucks shift Wednesday but said Mr. Schultz should have gone further.

Brian Malte, senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the anti-gun group had pressed Starbucks to ban guns from its stores. In 2010, the group gathered more than 40,000 signatures for a campaign and sent them to Starbucks’ corporate headquarters in Seattle.

“It’s good to see the Starbucks is taking initiative,” Mr. Malte said. “Starbucks is finally listening to its customers. There are families and students that come to the establishment.”

“It’s a step in the right direction,” added Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “The carrying of weapons … doesn’t promote a relaxed environment.”

Kurt Mueller, the public relations director for Students for Concealed Carry, said he views Mr. Schultz’s letter simply as a request. “They’re not going to post signs or ask people who carry [guns] to leave. He is concerned about Starbucks’ championing open-carry laws, that they were branded with a stance they didn’t have. They want to be clearer about their neutrality.”

Whether Starbucks’ bid for neutrality will succeed remains a question.

“Starbucks is clearly trying to appease both sides of the political spectrum,” said Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Guns Owners of America. “The recommendation to ‘split the baby in half’ worked well for King Solomon. But we’ll have to see if it works for Starbucks — or if both sides don’t end up boycotting them in disgust.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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