'Open carry' gun laws vex Starbucks, again

Starbucks shareholders on Wednesday were the target of activists who want the coffee chain to ban customers who display firearms. So far, Starbucks has an open door policy in states with 'open carry' gun laws.

Elaine Thompson/AP
Starbucks shareholder Mariana Chew, center, stands with her daughters Ximena, 15, left, and Priscila, 14, as she receives a flier about the company's 'open carry' gun policy before the annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, in Seattle.

Outside the Starbucks annual meeting Wednesday in Seattle, Wash., Ralph Fascitelli was one of the antigun-violence advocates handing fliers to the company’s shareholders. Some fliers showed a puppy, bare feet, and a gun.

Of the three, says Mr. Fascitelli, president of Washington Ceasefire, only firearms are allowed in Starbucks coffee shops.

The coffee chain remains caught in the crossfire of a dispute over so-called “open carry” laws, which give gun owners the right to wear unconcealed weapons, often without a permit.

After activists in a loosely organized open carry movement in California began gathering in Starbucks outlets, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called on the company to ban guns from its shops, much the same way California Pizza Kitchen and Peets Coffee and Tea did after similar meet-ups in their cafes. Starbucks resisted. The company said, instead, that it would “comply with local laws and statutes” and that the “political, policy, and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores.”

While Starbucks’ stance has made it the favorite coffee shop among gun rights advocates, gun control activists did not relent and have continued to pressure the largest coffee chain in the world.

Fascitelli says his group found many receptive shareholders at the company’s Wednesday meeting and is hopeful the issue will be raised with Starbucks executives.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, says that, since the California meetings by open carry proponents, his group has been hearing from Starbucks customers who wonder if it’s legal to wear a holstered handgun in public.

“Yes, our laws are so weak in this country that in almost every state you can openly carry a gun around,” says Mr. Helmke.

Thirty-two states allow the open display of loaded weapons, while California, Utah, and North Dakota require that openly displayed guns be unloaded, according to the Brady Campaign. Twelve states allow open carry but only with a permit. Florida, Illinois, and Texas prohibit open carry.

“This isn’t really a Starbucks issue, it’s an open carry issue,” says Helmke. “The gun lobby has been wanting to get more guns in more places, and they want that to be more acceptable to Americans.”

John Pierce, cofounder and spokesman for OpenCarry.org, one of the earliest open carry advocacy groups, agrees that the movement intends to normalize guns in America.

"This whole Starbucks thing only came to prominence because it happened in California, one of the latest states where the open carry movement has taken hold," says Mr. Pierce. In other states where open carry advocates have been active over the past decade, he says, he's seen increased acceptance for unconcealed weapons.

The movement in California has succeeded in bringing new attention to open carry. A California lawmaker has proposed a bill to outlaw the open display of weapons in public places, and cartoonist Garry Trudeau has been lampooning Starbucks in his most recent "Doonesbury" cartoons over its gun policy.

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