Starbucks and Guns
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
The recent announcement by Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz that the open carrying of firearms in his popular coffee shops is no longer welcome, has elicited quite a range of reactions from both pro and anti-gun groups. Some of it, in fact, has reached a hysterical pitch (as, I suppose, is only to be expected from what is such a hot button issue in the wake of both the Sandy Hook and Washington Navy Yard shootings), and so I thought I might briefly opine myself for the record.
As is evident from Schultz’s press release, he is trying his best to adopt a neutral approach – as any savvy business owner does when seeking to provide goods and services to the general public, rather than to a specific demographic. In fact, it is my impression that this was his idea all along by allowing “open-carry” so long as it is in compliance with all local government edicts. His competitors, by banning firearms entirely, made themselves offensive in many respects to pro-gun advocates. Presumably wishing to avoid this, Schultz seems to have acted in deference to government pronouncements as a kind of “fair standard” in which the least possibility of bias might exist – thereby maximizing the attraction of customers: “Whether you like or don’t like the laws, don’t blame – or even praise – me. We simply recognize and obey them here.” Come one, come all. Always the most intelligent approach when vending something with such widespread appeal as coffee.
The unintended consequences of this approach, however (with all due respect to John Ross’s novel), have been to draw the praise and enthusiasm of gun owners, and the ire of the anti-gunners. Contrary to Schultz’s apparent initial intentions, providing an alternative to Starbucks’ competitors’ policy has only drawn himself and his company into the controversy he wished to avoid all along. One might say that Schultz’s reliance on the “law” as a valid expression of regional “public will” was ultimately ineffectual.
And so now, as above, his latest pronouncement. But notice that his is a request, and not a desire to conform entirely with his competitors. He is not so much altering previous company policy inasmuch as he is once again attempting to reassert a neutral balance and level playing field. His bid to be different worked, to a degree: He distinguished himself from his competition, but in so doing, created controversy in spite of his best intentions. Now he is in a position where he cannot but place himself back in the midst of such debate, in a sincere effort to reassert his neutral tolerance of all viewpoints regarding guns – so as to maintain Starbucks’ unique (thus far) posture on the subject. No mean feat, but my guess is, not impossible. It remains to be seen, of course, how the public – Starbucks customers, i.e., the market – reacts.
Of course, from any rational standpoint, it should not be up to any government or set of bureaucrats who shall and who shall not be armed, and under what circumstances. There is no legitimacy whatsoever to such a position. But even if Howard Schultz were an ardent anarchist, we could not expect, necessarily, for him to create conditions that might prove detrimental to conducting business in an arena that has nothing to do with firearms in the first place – one way or another. Sadly, we do still live in a world saturated with the disease of government. And thus, in a very real sense, if Schultz wishes to be innovative in his bid to win as much of a share of the market as possible, he is more or less obligated – given such an environment -- to pass the buck to government.
All the more reason, of course, in my view, why it must go.