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No Guns at Starbucks, at Least at Annual Meeting Today

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There won't be any guns carried by the shareholders attending today's annual meeting of the Starbucks Coffee Company (NASDAQ: SBUX). It's not allowed. Guns aren't allowed in the company's corporate headquarters, either. And employees in its more than 8,000 company-owned stores aren't allowed to bring guns to work.

But the company says it's okay for customers to bring guns into its stores, in any state - and this includes nearly all of them - "open carry" or "carry of concealed weapons" is allowed by law. This has drawn criticism from my organization, as well as attention this week from the characters of the much-beloved comic strip Doonesbury.

Last week, I sent a letter to the company's ten largest institutional investors, asking them to ask about Starbucks' dangerous policy, perhaps during a coffee break during the annual meeting. What I told the investors was simple: incidents have been occurring, with growing frequency, where gun owners, seeking to "make a statement" about their "gun rights", are openly carrying their weapons into more and more public places. These gatherings of armed individuals have provoked a strong and adverse reaction from members of the public who legitimately feel endangered by the proliferation of guns. In response, at least two national chains -- Peet's Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen -- announced policies to bar entry by persons who are armed.

We launched a petition inviting Americans to ask Starbucks to bar guns from its stores. Starbucks, however, has decided to allow guns. While the company has stated "Starbucks will comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve," this evades the real issue. The law does not require Starbucks to allow guns in its stores. A "no guns" policy would comply with applicable law. The issue is not the law; the issue is Starbucks' policy.

According to the company's Standards of Business Conduct, posted on its website, "Partners [employees] may not have or possess any weapon while in a Starbucks store, plant or on other Starbucks property." No law requires Starbucks to implement such an employee policy; it does so presumably because it recognizes the dangers posed by guns on its business premises. Why is it any less dangerous to allow customers -- about whom Starbucks knows far less -- to bring guns into its stores?

Dangerous guns shouldn't be brought into public places like restaurants unless they're brought in by trained law enforcement professionals. Starbucks has an intelligent 'no guns' policy for its annual meetings, its corporate headquarters and its employees. It should have the same policy for its customers.