In 'open carry' states, guns and Starbucks mix uneasily

The Starbucks coffee chain will allow customers in 'open carry' states to bear arms openly. Gun-control advocates are protesting, but Starbucks says it doesn't want to take sides.

Elaine Thompson/AP
Greg Dement is handed a Starbucks coffee drink as he sits with a handgun strapped to his belt while looking on at an anti-gun rally in Seattle, Wednesday, March 3. Starbucks is sticking to its policy of letting customers carry guns in 'open carry' states.

Starbucks has become something of an unwilling pawn in a growing dispute over gun rights.

Advocates of so-called “open carry” laws, which give citizens the right to wear unconcealed weapons without a permit, are hailing it for not kicking gun-toting customers out of their stores. Gun foes, meanwhile, say the coffee chain should keep its stores firearm-free (while not refusing any espresso-sipping police officers, of course).

As for Starbucks, it would rather stay out of the debate altogether.

“The political, policy, and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

When it comes to the gun issue, Starbucks said it will abide by state laws. If a locale in which one of its shops is located allows open carry, it’s not about to tell anyone wearing a revolver to get their latte elsewhere. That, the company said, would put their employees “in an unfair and potentially unsafe position.”

Starbucks found itself in the middle of this debate after open-carry advocates began gathering at coffee shops as part of a loosely organized movement to raise awareness about gun rights and to protest policies that limit concealed weapons permits.

In California, where it's legal for residents to display unloaded weapons without a permit, businesses are within their rights to forbid guns on their premises. After the open carry groups began gathering at Peet’s Coffee and Tea and California Pizza Kitchen, both chains opted to ban guns. (The Monitor wrote about the growing open carry movement here.)

The anti-gun violence Brady Campaign has urged Starbucks take a firm stance against open carry.

"The practice of packing heat in places like Starbucks is intimidating and could be potentially dangerous to our families and communities – and it must be stopped," the group said in a statement. It has launched an online petition to pressure the coffee chain to change its policies.

While Starbucks hasn’t taken sides on the debate, it's suddenly become the gun advocates’ favorite coffee shop.

At, a forum for open carry information, one member wrote, "I've never been a fan of Starbucks coffee, but i may have to buy one here and there now."

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