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Starbucks, Gun Control, and Property Rights


The recent shooting at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard has once again thrust the issue of gun control into the news. But it is recent events at the Starbucks Coffee Company that are more relevant to the specific issue of gun control and property rights.

This past summer, Illinois became the last of the 50 states to allow the carrying of a concealed weapon with a permit. On July 9, 2013, Public Act 098-0063, the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, became state law when the Illinois legislature overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto.

The legislation came just in time. In December 2012, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional for Illinois to ban the carrying of concealed weapons and gave the state until June 9 to change its statutes, which deadline was later extended by a month.

Openly carrying a weapon in Illinois, however, is still against the law. About 45 states allow some form of “open carry” of a firearm. State requirements vary. Some states permit the open carrying of a gun without requiring a license or permit. Other states do require one, or require a license or permit to carry a weapon openly in a vehicle or into specific facilities.

On September 17, 2013, in response to the increasing “open carry” debate, Howard Schultz, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Starbucks posted an open letter on the company’s website requesting that “customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.”

Until then, the gun policy at Starbucks simply mirrored local laws, as a statement issued by the company in 2010 made clear:

We comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve. That means we abide by the laws that permit open carry in 43 U.S. states. Where these laws don’t exist, openly carrying weapons in our stores is prohibited. The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores.

Since 2010, various gun-control groups have proposed boycotting Starbucks because of the company’s gun policy. Gun rights advocates have countered with “Starbucks appreciation days.”

And as the Starbucks CEO detailed in his open letter,

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.

Some conservatives are upset with Starbucks for its decision — just as some conservatives were upset over the Starbucks expression of support earlier this year for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Although recognizing that Starbucks, as a private company, has the right to prohibit guns in its stores (or request that they not be brought into stores), some conservatives have expressed their intention to refuse to patronize Starbucks because of its new gun policy. A few have mentioned that the Starbucks gun policy violates their Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms,” although it does nothing of the kind, since this is a property-rights issue, not a gun-rights issue.

Although liberals and conservatives may agree or disagree with a company’s policies regarding guns, knives, or anything else, both would generally say that businesses have the right to make such policy decisions — but only as long as they are reasonable, nondiscriminatory, and in accordance with applicable state and local laws. Depending on the particular issue, the reaction of liberals and conservatives to policy decisions they disagree with can range from sighs of disappointment to calls for boycotts.

Because they are more focused on the philosophical than the political, libertarians take things a step further. Like liberals and conservatives, they may agree or disagree with a particular company’s policy; and like liberals and conservatives, they may express their disagreement in any number of ways, including even boycotts. But unlike liberals and conservatives, libertarians aren’t as concerned with whether a company has a particular gun policy as they are with whether a company has the freedom to have a gun policy in the first place. That is because, unlike liberals and conservatives, libertarians believe that property rights are absolute, and encompass much more than a company’s having a gun policy.

Charles Cooke, a blogger for National Review Online, but writing at his private Twitter account, sums up the libertarian position: “Starbucks is a private company and it can do as it pleases. If I had my way it could refuse service to anyone, anytime, for whatever reason.”

In a libertarian society, that is, a free society, any business — large or small, family or sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, publicly held or privately held, wholesale or retail — could permit or prohibit the possession of any particular gun, all guns, concealed guns, openly carried guns, loaded guns, unloaded guns, single action guns, double action guns, handguns, shotguns, or any other weapon on its property by every patron or just certain patrons at all times of the day or just certain times of the day, and regardless of whether anyone felt the permission or prohibition was reasonable or nondiscriminatory.

And it would be just as wrong for the government to mandate that a business must permit “open carry” or “concealed carry” on its property as it would for the government to mandate that a business must not permit “open carry” or “concealed carry” on its property.

In a free society, any private company could have, not only a gun policy, but a clothes policy, shoes policy, weight policy, race policy, religion policy, gender policy, sexual-orientation policy, pregnancy policy, facial-hair policy, or hair-color policy for employees or customers or both.

In a free society, store owners, just like any homeowners, have the right to exclude any item or person from their stores or homes for any reason, however unreasonable, illogical, or discriminatory.

In a free society it couldn’t be any other way. Without the absolute right of property, all other rights are precarious and illusory.

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