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September 18, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Starbucks teeters on the fence of the gun debate
The announcement by Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz “respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas — even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel” — puts right-wing extremists in an interesting spot. On the one hand, they tend to be Second Amendment absolutists. On the other, they subscribe to “economic freedom,” usually a dog whistle for defunding the EPA, etc. but also presuming that business owners should be able to do as they please. Viva Ayn Rand!
Schultz’s letter was a model of care and fence-sitting. It’s a request, not a ban. I suspect the fence could be very painful for Starbucks’ backside. While most Americans probably don’t care, the gun lobby is extremely powerful and its base very energized. Polls show the country closely divided on more restrictive firearms laws, despite the rising body count from our continuing episodes of mass murder (that’s some American exceptionalism, for sure). President Obama’s modest reforms proposed after the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., went nowhere after the National Rifle Association did its thing.
Now before you go off on me, I have been around firearms all my life. My mother taught me to shoot when I was eight. In the seventh grade, I took and passed the NRA Safe Hunter course. Somewhere I still have that treasured patch that was given out. Among the things I was taught: Always check to see if a gun was loaded and never to point it at someone, loaded or not. But that was a different America. I’m a gun owner now, but have no problem with sensible restrictions, including on assault weapons and extended magazines (memo to media: They’re not “clips” unless they go in an M-1 rifle).
Until I read the news story, I had forgotten that “gun advocates” had been staging “Starbucks Appreciation Days” because of the company’s earlier decision to allow firearms inside if local laws permitted them. In a state such as Arizona, where guns are legal in bars (what could possibly go wrong?), it’s practically illegal to not pack. Anyway, these events involved armed “gun advocates” showing up en masse at Starbucks stores. What could possibly go wrong? At the least, bad taste:
Last month, for example, the company closed down a store in Newtown, Conn., for the day after learning that gun rights advocates planned to hold a “Starbucks Appreciation Day” at the location. The store was near the school where a gunman killed 20 children and six women.
I used to frequent a Starbucks in central Phoenix where at least one-third of the patrons were armed. But they were police officers.
As for Schultz, he has been seeking to place himself in a sensible center of American politics, and he’s trying to do that with the Starbucks plea to leave your heat outside. Will customers back him? Or will Starbucks become a (rhetorical) target for the intensity of the Second Amendment absolutists? I’m not sure the Constitution or civil society can long survive much single-issue rigidity and lack of good sense, from court-discovered “corporate personhood” to selectively enshrining only one of the elements in the Bill of Rights. Free speech doesn’t allow me to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater, to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Freedom of the press doesn’t allow me to write a libelous article without facing a lawsuit. And as my mother told me, “Men on the frontier wore guns so we wouldn’t have to.”
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Today’s Econ Haiku:
Health-care plans get cut
Blame Obama/Romney care
Not a sick system