We all mourn the events at Washington’s Navy Yard on Monday that left 13 people dead, but knee-jerk reactions like that of Starbucks are not effective.
After three years of allowing gun owners to celebrate Starbucks Appreciation Day, openly carrying their guns inside stores located in states with “open carry” laws, Starbucks abruptly reversed its position. In an “open letter” from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the company said it will not forbid guns in its stores, but will “respectful[ly] request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas”. In other words, gun owners aren’t all that welcome any more and may one day be banned.
Gun owners had developed an affinity for Starbucks, with some fans creating a modified version of the Starbucks logo that says “I love guns and coffee“. For years, Starbucks has apparently looked the other way at the popular logo, which spread to T-shirts and coffee mugs. Gun owners organized the annual Starbucks Appreciation Day in order to reward the company with more business and publicity. The most recent event took place on 9 August.
Schultz was unapologetically harsh towards the event in his letter, saying:
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.’ To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.
Starbucks is trying to have it both ways by announcing a ban that will not be enforced. Of course, the vast majority of Starbucks’ customers could care less about guns in stores; the protest is being led by a few noisy activists.
Overreacting after an emotionally charged event never works. Two Colorado legislators who overreacted to the Colorado movie theater shooting spree by getting four gun control bills passed last spring were recalled by voters last week. In the state’s first-ever recall election, Democratic State Senate President John Morse and Democratic State Senator Angela Giron lost their seats, despite the gun-control lobby kicking in more money than the pro-gun lobby.
The noisy small activist group that prompted this decision is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which formed after the Newtown school shooting. The group has been organizing “Skip Starbucks Saturdays” to boycott the stores. Instead, they urge people to post photos online of themselves at rival coffee shop Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods, which ban guns. Their founder claims this is evidence of a trend to ban guns in public places.
She’s wrong. Polls repeatedly show that support for gun control measures spike after a mass shooting, then goes right back down. Over the years, support for gun control has been waning, from 57% in 1993 when President Clinton took office, down to 39% when President Obama entered the White House.
Schultz concludes his letter by saying, “The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers”. This is a red herring argument, and could be used to exclude anything; one person’s subjective opinion of what is offensive is different from another’s. What if you find severely obese people, gays, fundamentalist Christians or devout Muslims offensive?
It’s easy to blame lax gun laws for America’s problems, but most of the high-profile shootings over the past few years have taken place in areas of the country with the strictest gun control laws. The shooters know their victims are more likely to be unarmed and unable to shoot back. Washington DC, where the the latest shooting rampage took place, is considered by many to have the strictest gun control laws in the nation. Clearly, increasing gun control laws isn’t working. The shooter purchased a shotgun in the past week in Virginia and brought it into DC.
Most importantly, studies have shown that murder and suicide rates do not increase with rates of gun ownership. It’s a lot more complex than that. Guns are not the problem.
Schultz is feeling pressured and not considering all of the ramifications of his actions on customers and Americans’ rights. Boycotts can work if really well organized. If the NRA, which was behind the recall of the two Colorado senators, decides to organize its members to start a boycott, Starbucks may end up quietly dropping its policy.
Although Starbucks’ decision is disappointing, perhaps some in the gun community needlessly provoked Starbucks by creating Starbucks Appreciation Day. Was it really necessary to showcase Starbucks for allowing firearms in their stores? The annual event didn’t improve any laws. Large corporations don’t like getting in the middle of political debates, for fear of bad publicity and alienating a significant portion of their customers. Gun owners must pick and choose their battles carefully, or risk the consequences of bad PR that could have been avoided. And Starbucks should look at the facts on guns – or better yet, stick to coffee.