Starbucks Asks Customers To Leave Their Guns Behind

Starbucks — which has been caught in the cross hairs of the gun control debate — is now asking customers to consider its coffee houses gun-free zones. Until now, the company had not discouraged customers in open-carry states from bringing weapons into their stores.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Starbucks has a new message for its customers: Leave Your Guns Behind.

Under this new policy, Starbucks is not banning guns in its stores, but has made clear they are no longer welcome.

More from NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: Starbucks never wanted to be part of the gun control debate. But over the past several months, pro and anti-gun advocates have been using their stores as a staging ground to promote their views. Activist gun owners have been holding so-called Customer Appreciation days to thank Starbucks for letting them openly display their weapons - something they're allowed to do in most states. Anti-gun advocates have countered with calls to boycott the company until it changed its policy.

Things became so intense that last month, Starbucks felt compelled to close a Connecticut store early, in order to prevent a showdown there between the two sides. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had had enough.

HOWARD SCHULTZ: We're not a policymaker, and we're not pro or anti-gun. However, we've come to the decision that it's in the best interest of our company, and we believe our customers, for guns to not be part of the Starbucks store experience.

KAUFMAN: So Schultz is making what he calls a respectful request that guns be left behind.

SCHULTZ: We're also saying that if you do legally carry a gun into a Starbucks store, we will serve you, we're not going to ask you to leave, but we're hopeful that most people will honor the request.

KAUFMAN: The CEO chose not to impose a weapons ban - something private property owners can do and companies, including Peet's Coffee, California Pizza Kitchen and Disney have already done. His rationale is simple; he doesn't want to put his employees in the position of telling someone with a gun on their hip that they need to leave.

Reaction to Starbucks' new policy was predictably mixed. John Pierce is the co-founder of Open Carry, a national gun rights networking hub.

JOHN PIERCE: I'm really saddened that after such an outpouring of support from the gun rights community that they would decide, you know, actually, we probably will discriminate against you after all.

KAUFMAN: He adds that he will respect Starbucks' wishes and will take his gun and his business elsewhere. He says many others will do the same.

PIERCE: I imagine that across the country, gun owners are coming to terms with the fact that they have had their last Peppermint latte and they're looking at competitors, such as Dunkin Donuts, for alternatives.

KAUFMAN: But gun control advocates were generally pleased.

SHANNON WATTS: We are very grateful that they made this decision. It's about time.

KAUFMAN: Shannon Watts is founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It's a grass roots organization which now has over 100,000 members.

WATTS: And we really expect that this is the beginning of the end for it being acceptable to have guns in public in this country. We are hoping that this will make carrying in public as distasteful as smoking and drunk driving.

KAUFMAN: She adds her organization will continue to pressure Starbucks to ban gun-toting customers from its stores.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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