- - Monday, September 23, 2013

Gun rights advocates have been rightly upset that Starbucks has asked them not to bring firearms into their stores. Until now, the coffee chain has allowed state laws on carry rights to dictate store policy. The Seattle-based company changed its order, but did not go so far as leaving customers sipping frappuccinos in a gun-free zone.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz released an open letter last week that said, “We are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas — even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America immediately fired off a statement taking credit for the policy change that the “company will no longer allow guns on its property, both inside and outside of its stores.”

Not so fast, ladies. Mr. Schultz’s letter made clear that there is no outright ban, just a request. However, Mr. Schultz wrote, “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.”

To be fair, Starbucks got dragged into this debate and never wanted to take a stand either way on the laws on the right to bear arms. Both the pro- and anti-Second Amendment groups have used the popular chain as a front line in the battle over gun control.

Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which is also based in Washington state, sells stickers with the Starbucks logo that says “I [heart] Guns and Coffee.” The legendary gun-rights leader told me in an interview, “I fully understand Starbucks not wanting to be involved in the debate on either side. Their job is to sell coffee, not politics.”

The open-carry movement has organized meet-ups — “Starbucks Appreciation Day” — at the stores where people arrive showing their weapons. Things got heated when some groups openly carried rifles in the stores.

The change in corporate policy came after a group organized an open-carry event at a Starbucks in Newtown, Conn., a small city where 20 children and six educators were fatally shot last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Starbucks closed the store before the meeting could commence.

“Starbucks didn’t want their customers intimidated and didn’t want open-carry people using their stores as their forum,” explained Mr. Gottlieb. “It is not creating a gun-free zone, just requesting you don’t bring a gun. If you are discreetly carrying, no one will know.”

The Second Amendment groups have had enormous success in getting concealed-carry rights laws passed in every state in the nation in recent years. (Only the District of Columbia does not recognize the right to bear arms.) With more than 8 million carry-permit holders in the United States now and gun violence falling, it is clear that increasing numbers of law-abiding people bearing arms may make the nation even safer by deterring criminals.

While it is unfortunate that Starbucks has changed its policy to make firearms unwelcome, it also is a wake-up call for pro-gun activists to be more aware of how their actions reflect responsible gun ownership.

I often go to Starbucks to relax, read, write and make full use of the store for my $4 latte. While I’m a gun owner and comfortable with firearms, if a bunch of men walked into the shop openly carrying rifles, I would either duck under the table or run for the door. There is no way for me to know immediately whether they are law-abiding persons exercising their Second Amendment rights or would-be mass murderers.

That said, if the CEO of Starbucks announces that he is prohibiting guns in his stores, I would reconsider how relaxed I should be while sipping coffee. Gun-free zones are invitations for bad guys, because they know there are no good guys there who can shoot back.

Gun-rights activists should continue to conceal-carry if they like at Starbucks, which is both within their rights and the policy of the company. However, unless you have no talent for subtlety, save your practice of open carry for places where you really need others to know that you are armed.

Emily Miller is a senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, 2013).

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