Starbucks is becoming a gun-free zone.
After months of wrangling over the highly-emotional issue, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz late Tuesday announced that guns are no longer permitted in Starbucks stores - or in Starbucks outdoor seating areas.
Schultz made the comments in an open letter to his "Fellow Americans" that was posted on the company's website.
In an interview with USA TODAY, also Tuesday, Schultz says: "The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers."
But, to be clear, Starbucks will not slap an outright ban on guns, he says, because enforcing such a ban "would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers."
Full-page newspaper advertisements announcing the change will appear in Thursday's editions of USA TODAY, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
For Starbucks, which has been embraced by the gun lobby for permitting guns in stores in those parts of more than 40 states that allow them, it's a major change of policy certain to have immediate blow-back from pro-gun enthusiasts.
The move comes just days after the mass-killing left 13 dead at Washington's Navy Yard, but Schultz insists the timing of the policy change is unrelated. In fact, he says, the company thought about postponing the announcement after Monday's massacre, but opted to move ahead.
Because of the usually progressive stance Starbucks takes on most social issues, the coffee giant has found itself caught in the middle of the gun issue as it's tried to walk a very thin line and make peace with its customers who are gun advocates and those who favor gun control. Schultz says he has spent much of the past four months trying to find a solution.
"Both sides of the issue have staged events at Starbucks, so our company has been characterized as pro and anti-gun, but we're neither'" insists Schultz. "Very few issues are as emotional or as polarizing as this."
Unlike the NO SMOKING signs currently posted in its stores, there will be no signs posted that specifically state that guns are not welcome.
"At this point we'll sit and monitor the situation," says Schultz. " We're hoping that most people will honor the request." But even if gun-carrying customers don't honor the request, says Schultz, "we'll serve them with a smile and not confront them."
Schultz insists that his decision was not bottom-line driven. A recent "Skip Starbucks Saturday" sponsored by a gun control group had no impact at all on sales, he says.
Rather, he says, Starbucks has had "a number of episodes" in its stores over the past few months regarding guns "that made our customers feel quiet uncomfortable."
As a result, Schultz says, Starbucks has heard from numerous customers who don't want guns in the stores. He declined to state how many. But, he says, "it got my attention."
Schultz declined to state if he carries - or has ever carried - a gun. "This isn't about me, he says. "It's about the company."
Howard Schultz's letter reads in full:
Dear Fellow Americans,
Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That's why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.
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. Our values have always centered on building community rather than dividing people, and our stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.
We appreciate that there is a highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America's gun laws, and we recognize the deep passion for and against the "open carry" laws adopted by many states. (In the United States, "open carry" is the term used for openly carrying a firearm in public.) For years we have listened carefully to input from our customers, partners, community leaders and voices on both sides of this complicated, highly charged issue.
Our company's longstanding approach to "open carry" has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don't exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement-not by Starbucks and our store partners.
Recently, however, we've seen the "open carry" debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called "Starbucks Appreciation Days" that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of "open carry." To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.
For these reasons, today we are 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.
I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request-and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose "open carry," we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion "open carry," please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.
I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today's request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors.
By Bruce Horovitz