I never thought I’d feel sorry for Starbucks. But I do now. The coffee juggernaut that everybody loves to hate is caught in the crosshairs of the American gun wars – an epic cultural conflict that is impossible for outsiders to comprehend. Now, in a desperate plea for civility, CEO Howard Schultz is respectfully requesting that his latte-loving customers leave their weapons behind when they come into the store. He stopped short from banning them outright.
“From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a ‘third place’ between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community,” he wrote in an open letter to customers this week. Coincidentally, the plea came only a day after the latest massacre, when a deranged gunman mowed down 12 people in Washington. In an emotional statement, one of the doctors who oversaw the treatment of the wounded said, “There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.”
Lately there’s been no third place of peace at Starbucks. The coffee chain has been trying to stay neutral in the guns ’n’ culture wars, but neither side would let it. All but six states have open-carry laws, which means that gun owners are free to display their weapons in public. The idea of Glocks in Starbucks made some gun-control advocates extremely unhappy. In response, Mr. Schultz tried to explain that he was just following the law. “I’m not a politician,” he said in one interview. “I run a coffee company and we’re trying to abide by the laws in which we do business.”
To thank him for trying to be reasonable, gun-rights activists began staging Starbucks Appreciation Days, showing up with weapons to make the point that these two great institutions go together. They even showed up in Newtown, Conn., the scene of the Sandy Hook massacre last year. “Just like peanut butter and jelly, guns and coffee is as American as apple pie,” declares the I Love Guns and Coffee website. It has appropriated the Starbucks logo, turning it into a pistol-packing mermaid. Gun opponents, understandably distressed, began staging counter-demonstrations and urging boycotts. And so it went.
“I’ve spent a significant amount of personal time on this issue in the last several months and I’ve seen the emotionally charged nature of this issue and how polarizing it is on both sides,” Mr. Schultz told The New York Times.
In the United States, it’s a lot easier to ban smoking than it is to ban guns. Starbucks banned smoking in all its outdoor spaces earlier this year, and nobody peeped. But plenty of people are squawking about their right to bear arms.
In spite of all the horrifying massacres, the pro- and anti-gun factions are waging a high-volume dialogue of the deaf. And in spite of all the horrifying massacres, the gun-control lobby is losing ground. This week, Colorado voters recalled two lawmakers who had backed modest gun-control legislation – despite the fact that gun-control activists raised around $3-million to support them. Most Colorado voters don’t particularly object to guns. And they’re the ones who turned out at the polls.
There are other reasons why gun-control advocates have failed to make their case, argues Businessweek’s Paul Barrett. They’ve failed to explain how more legislation would keep guns away from criminals and madmen. They haven’t been able to explain why a city like Chicago, which has strict gun laws, also has a shocking level of gun crime, or why overall gun crime has fallen despite soaring levels of gun ownership. But their biggest problem is their cultural condescension. “Disparaging the deeply emotional attachment millions of law-abiding citizens have to guns is a futile exercise,” he writes.
Perhaps Mr. Schultz’s plea will allow his customers to sip their decaf venti cappuccinos in peace. But since it’s America, I wouldn’t count on it.