This week, Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz addressed an issue that most business owners don’t want to touch with a thousand-foot pole. After months of largely grass-roots pro-gun events taking place at Starbucks locations across the nation — until recently, the company was one of the few “third places” to allow weapons where permitted by local law — and months of being pressed between a rock (pro-gun activists) and a hard place (anti-gun activists), Schultz has finally been forced to take a position on the issue of whether or not to allow firearms on company premises.
“I think it’s really important to be very clear that Starbucks is not a policymaker, and that we are not pro- or anti-gun,” Schultz said in a video statement. “We just believe that our customers and our people would be much more comfortable if guns were not part of the Starbucks experience. And therefore, we are respectfully asking our customers who are carrying a gun not to bring them into a Starbucks store.”
To be clear, Starbucks hasn’t actually exercised its right as as business to ban firearms on its premises. Schultz is simply making a request and has specifically instructed employees not to ask people to leave simply for carrying a firearm.
The last thing most businesses want to do is take a position on a highly divisive political issue, but the coffee chain doesn’t appear to have had much of a choice. The issue of gun control in the United States has once again taken the national spotlight, and citizens on either side of the issue have taken it upon themselves to dig trenches and make statements wherever and whenever they can. Starbucks, for better or worse, became something of a battleground.
Starbucks initially attracted the attention of pro-gun activists when it become public knowledge that the store’s policy was to respect local laws when it came to carrying firearms in public. This led to “Starbucks Appreciation Days,” during which gun owners would head to their local Starbucks, grab a cup of coffee, and otherwise exercise their right to carry a weapon in public. However, the presence of firearms in the typically family friendly Starbucks atmosphere disturbed many patrons, who petitioned for the company to ban firearms on store premises.
It’s still unclear if this will have a material impact on Starbucks as a business. Shares have climbed more than 38 percent this year to date already and are up more than 84 percent over the past two-year period. Once again under the control of Schultz, Starbucks has proven to be pretty much unstoppable in its quest to infiltrate every community in the U.S., and it has even successfully begun expanding overseas.
Gun control isn’t the first divisive issue that Schultz has had to address. In an interview with Reuters at the end of August, Schultz was asked how the Affordable Care Act — or, more colloquially, Obamacare — would affect his businesses. He said the coffee shop chain would not be adjusting benefits or staff schedules in anticipation of the rollout of the legislation.
“Other companies have announced that they won’t provide coverage for spouses; others are lobbying for the cut-off to be at 40 hours,” Schultz said in his telephone interview with Reuters. “But Starbucks will continue maintaining benefits for partners and won’t use the new law as excuse to cut benefits or lower benefits for its workers.” Currently, Starbucks provides health care to part-time employees who work 20 hours a week or more.