Starbucks' Cop-Out to Gun Nuts: Customers Served Coffee While Strapped
So you're at your neighborhood Starbucks, maybe with your kids, and you notice a man sitting at the next table with a revolver strapped to his waist. The man next to him has a pistol. In fact, you realize as you look around, there's a table full of gun-toting customers just a few feet away, sipping coffee and doing nothing to conceal their deadly weapons. Aside from steering clear -- or else getting the hell out of there -- what can an unarmed citizen do?
If you live in California, or a state with similar "open carry" gun laws, the answer is not much. Starbucks, according to numerous media reports, has recently become a popular gathering spot for Second Amendment crusaders, who have generated a lot of local press in California over the last several weeks for going out en mass, their guns conspicuously at their sides, to assert their right to carry firearms in public.
"We're just a bunch of citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights," a large dark-clothed man named Gus Konstantaras told local news station ABC7 at a Starbucks in Antioch, CA last month. Konstantaras argues that, when it comes to Americans' Second Amendment rights, "if you don't use them, you'll probably lose them."
He didn't come up with that all by himself. "A right unexercised is a right lost!" is the slogan of the official Open Carry organization, of which Konstantaras is an East Bay chapter member, and which proudly calls its organizers the "shock troops of the gun lobby."
"Open carry," by definition, means "openly carrying a firearm in public," which is to say overtly rather than covertly. Most states have some sort of open carry laws on the books, with varying degrees of enforcement. At OpenCarry.org, the Internet home of the open carry movement, the group brags that their mission is growing in popularity, with more and more people discovering that carrying firearms in public is "legal and wholesome."
Starbucks denies it has an official policy that embraces firearms. "Starbucks does not have a corporate policy regarding customers and weapons," a Starbucks spokesperson recently told the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, claiming that "we defer to federal, state and local laws and regulations regarding this issue."
But Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke says this is a cop-out. "Here's the problem with that answer," he wrote on the Huffington Post this week: "Generally speaking -- and certainly in California -- businesses have the right to bar guns on their premises. It is their property and, just as they can prohibit entry by people with bare feet, they can do the same for people with guns."
In fact, according to one report out of gun-friendly Wyoming, at least one Starbucks has not allowed customers to hang out with their guns. Outraged pro-gun columnist Anthony Bouchard recounts an incident at a Starbucks in Casper where a patron was asked to remove his gun from the premises. Upon contacting the manager, Bouchard was told, "I own guns but why would anyone want to carry them around women and children?" (Appealing to the local police did the writer no good, prompting him to ask, conspiratorially: "Has the Casper Police become an agent of Starbucks?")
Like the NRA and other members of the gun lobby, open carry activists argue their mission is all about self defense. Brad Huffman, a member of Bay Area Open Carry, told the Contra Costa Times last week that he and his fellow activists "applaud Starbucks for allowing law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and we will continue to patronize them as long as they do."
But others scoff at the notion that filling public places with conspicuous weapons will do anything to keep people safe.
"This myth, that these people are somehow superheroes that are out there ready to take a bullet for you, they're just as likely to put a bullet in you," Brady Campaign coordinator Karen Arntzen told ABC7. Arntzen has called Starbucks "socially irresponsible" for not cracking down on its gun-toting clientele.
Starbucks is not alone among businesses that have found themselves, perhaps unwittingly, at the center of the intractable fight over gun rights in this country. According to the Contra Consta Times, "both Peet's Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen have banned guns from their premises in response to recent requests from the national Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, while Starbucks refused the campaign's request to do so."
Now, the Brady Campaign is stepping up its targeting of Starbucks. Its homepage blares the message: "Tell Starbucks: 'Keep Guns Out,'" alongside a spin-off of the Starbucks mermaid logo (with the mermaid holding a gun in each hand). It is circling a petition via e-mail appeals, in partnership with Credo Action, with titles like "Tell Starbucks: Offer espresso shots, not gunshots."
"It's everyone's right to be able to sit in a restaurant or coffee shop with their family without intimidation or fear of guns, either concealed or openly carried," writes Lianna Davis, campaign manager for Credo. "Under the law, Starbucks has the right to adopt a gun-free policy, with an exception for uniformed police officers."
Meanwhile, open carry activists are stepping up their own efforts. This past weekend, more than 100 gun-carrying members showed up at a restaurant called the Buckhorn Grill in Walnut Creek, CA. "We're not politically involved," the manager told the Times. "We're a restaurant and we're serving food."
One attendee who brought his wife and baby daughter with him, told the Times, "By carrying a firearm I am creating a deterrent to violence."
But another patron unrelated to the open carry gathering was unconvinced. "I'm a little worried," she said, "I don't feel safe in here. I wouldn't have come if I had known."