Guns and coffee an unwelcome combination

Reaction to coffee chain’s request is insight into American mindset over firearms

The gun lobby reacted quickly to the public request by Starbucks chief Howard Schultz that customers not carry firearms into their coffee shops. Photograph: Reuters

The gun lobby reacted quickly to the public request by Starbucks chief Howard Schultz that customers not carry firearms into their coffee shops. Photograph: Reuters


The responses were predictable. Pro and anti-gun supporters mobilised opinions quickly to this week’s public request by Starbucks boss Howard Schultz that customers not carry firearms into their shops.

“Kudos Howard. This will not effect (sic) business at all . . . Banks don’t allow concealed weapons, so what is the big deal with his request? Nothing. I applaud him,” wrote Susan Pamir Rogers on Facebook.

Travis Michael Ratica responded: “You will never see my business again, Howard Schultz, you sir are a coward and how dare you tell, a law-abiding citizen, that I cannot exercise my right to protect myself.”

That a chief executive of a coffee shop chain should even have to make such a request may leave right-thinking individuals in places where guns are not so common totally flummoxed. But this is American, where every individual’s right to bear arms is constitutionally protected by the Second Amendment.

Disarm or leave
Schultz made his request in a letter to “fellow Americans” published in national newspapers this week. The company’s staff had been caught up in an “increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening” gun debate, he said. “Our store partners [the company’s term for employees] should not be put in an uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores,” he said.

“Open carry” laws in the US allow individuals to carry their firearms in public in particular states. Until Wednesday the policy in Starbucks was to follow the local laws where their shops were located. There are 44 states where Starbucks customers can carry handguns in plain view.

Starbucks started getting antsy when gun rights advocates began holding “Starbucks Appreciation Days” in praise of the Seattle-based company for supporting their constitutional right to pack heat while sipping a chai frappucino. Schultz took issue with this misleading characterisation, saying that these people were “disingenuously” portraying the company as “a champion of open carry”.

Starbucks inadvertently found itself caught in the crossfire and anti-gun groups attacked company in response to their opposition.

Gun-loving clientele
The fact that Starbucks stopped short of a ban on guns in their shops shows how a company with 12,000 coffee shops around the US feels it has to tread a fine line on such a contentious issue so as not to alienate their gun-loving, coffee-drinking clientele.

The company’s announcement came a day after the killings of 12 people at a Washington DC navy facility at the hands of a troubled 34-year-old civilian contractor Aaron Alexis. Starbucks said the timing was purely coincidental.

By Thursday, Monday morning’s gun rampage had fallen off, or at least well down, the US television news agenda, confirming US president Obama’s concerns earlier in the week that horrific mass shootings have become a routine “ritual” that leaves the American public and political classes largely unmoved. News of more gun crime is as routine as buying a cup of coffee.

The Huffington Post estimated that there have been at least 17 mass shootings this year. The FBI defines a mass murder as the killing of four people or more. Online magazine Slate reckoned, based on data from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, that guns have killed about 24,580 Americans since the massacre at the primary school in Newtown, Connecticut last December, which left six teachers and 20 children dead.

Debunking the myth
The respected US Journal of Medicine published research this week debunking the myth that firearms make a country safer. The findings showed a strong correlation between the number of guns per head of population and the rate of firearm-related deaths. The US had the most guns per head in the world and the highest rate of firearm-related deaths (mostly suicides); Japan had the lowest rates.

But the number of guns in the US is only the start of the problem. Alexis’s past shooting incidents and recent mental health problems failed to sound alarm bells when he walked into a gun shop and legally bought a firearm.

The case shows the deep problems behind the US gun crime epidemic that must be addressed. The angry response from certain quarters to a coffee chain’s polite request that customers refrain from carrying guns in their shops shows what a challenge that will be.