Gun advocates are reportedly set to hold a "Starbucks Appreciation Day" at an establishment in Newtown, Conn., to celebrate the ability to carry weapons in the store. Gun control groups have vehemently criticized the event as "reprehensible."
NBC affiliate WVIT reported that gun rights advocates are using Facebook to rally supporters to head to Starbucks stores across the nation Friday to celebrate the coffee chain's open policy on carrying weapons. The company doesn't prohibit customers from openly carrying guns in states where it is legal. The "Starbucks appreciation day" Facebook page says they want to thank Starbucks for standing up for the right to bear arms.
One post by a Ridgefield, Conn., resident on the "CT Open Carry" page caught some attention. The resident said he and some members from the Connecticut Citizens Defense League were going to meet Friday evening at the Starbucks at 34 Church Hill Road in Newtown, the town where 26 people were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. (The Hartford Courant has a screengrab of the post, which appears to have been taken down.)
The Newtown Action Alliance, a group set up in the wake of the Dec. 14 tragedy, responded by calling the plans "reprehensible."
"Our community is still healing and we find it reprehensible that they are picking Newtown to rally," David Ackert, a spokesman for the group, told WVIT. "It is disturbing to think that tomorrow night you and your children may be sitting in Starbucks when people carrying guns walk through the door."
The group also posted a statement on its Facebook page Thursday:
We wonder why it isn't okay to appreciate Starbucks at the same time appreciate the sensitive nature of the gesture in our neighborhood half a year after our community was ravaged by #gunviolence. There are 5 other Starbucks locations within about 15 miles of ours to choose from.
Starbucks spokesman Danny Cowan told Newtown Patch that the company does not endorse the event.
"Our stores are gathering places for the communities we serve," he said in a statement. "We respect the diversity of our customers. We realize there are deep-standing passions on gun ownership. We abide by the laws that permit open carry. However, where those laws do not exist, open carry in Starbucks in prohibited ... We encourage both customers and advocacy groups on both sides to share their input with their public officials. We are extremely sensitive to the issue of gun violence in our society, and we believe by supporting local laws is the best way for us to provide a safe environment for both our partners and customers."
The local Starbucks store could not immediately be reached for comment.
This is not the first time such a campaign has been planned. In February, more than 1,000 gun enthusiasts joined a Facebook event page for "Gun Owners Support Starbucks" Day. Advocacy group Moms Demand Action and others have asked Starbucks to change its policy and ban guns in all store locations.
UPDATE: 12:35 p.m. -- Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, told The Huffington Post the CCDL had nothing to do with the organizing of Friday's event but added that the group supports members who choose to participate. He said he heard "through the grapevine" that a "number of people... more than a few" are planning to participate in the gathering at numerous locations across the nation.
UPDATE: 6:22 p.m. -- Starbucks announced it decided to close its Newtown location early Friday. A statement reads:
At Starbucks we are proud that our stores serve as gathering places for thousands of communities across the country and we appreciate that our customers share diverse points of view on issues that matter to them. We also believe in being sensitive to each community we serve.
Today, advocacy groups from different sides of the open carry debate announced plans to visit our Newtown, Connecticut store to bring attention to their points of view. We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding this topic, however out of respect for Newtown and everything the community has been through we decided to close our store early before the event started. Starbucks did not endorse or sponsor the event. We continue to encourage customers and advocacy groups from all sides of the debate to contact their elected officials, who make the open carry laws that our company follows. Our long-standing approach to this topic has been to comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve.
Thank you for your understanding and respect for the Newtown community.
executive vice president, U.S. Retail