Some progressive CEOs just can’t control their liberal views.

Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz dove into the gun control debate when he issued a public policy statement asking gun owners not to bring their firearms to his company’s stores.

Shultz posted his open letter on the Starbucks website and it will also appear as a full page ad in a few major national newspapers.

In a New York Times interview Shultz said:

“I’ve spent a significant amount of personal time on this issue in the last several months and I’ve seen the emotionally charged nature of this issue and how polarizing it is on both sides,” Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, said in a telephone interview. “Nevertheless, customers in many stores have been jarred and fairly uncomfortable to see guns in our stores, not understanding the issue and feeling that guns should not be part of the Starbucks experience, especially when small kids are around.”

Starbucks got involved in the gun control debate by chance when anti-gun activists urged the company to ban guns at its stores and pro-gun forces responded by celebrating Starbucks’ policy at the time to defer to local laws.

More than 3,000 gun rights activists across the country are visiting their local Starbucks coffee shops Friday with their firearms in tow for a national “Starbucks Appreciation Day.”

Organizers said on a Facebook page dedicated to the event that they are carrying on the campaign to thank Starbucks for “standing up for our right to bear arms.”

The Seattle-based chain has a corporate policy of following state gun laws, including open carry laws in more than 40 states that allow permit-holding customers to bring their loaded weapons into the coffee shop.

Gun owners reportedly began staging the event a few years ago after Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz resisted pressure from gun control advocates to ban firearms from the stores, saying in one interview, “I’m not a politician. I run a coffee company and we’re trying to abide by the laws in which we do business.”

The issue escalated when a group of gun rights activists planned a “Starbucks Appreciation Day”
at a company store in Newtown, CT – the town that experienced the horrific school shooting.

Starbucks closed the Newtown location early that day to avoid being in the center of a debate between pro- and anti-gun advocates.

From Shultz’s 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.

This is not the first time Shultz got involved in controversial issues. In 2011, he urged business leaders and others to stop contributing to politicians in both parties until they made progress on federal budget issues.

Shultz also supports ObamaCare and he told Reuters his company would not use Obama’s health care plan as an “excuse” to reduce hours or health care benefits.

At this year’s annual shareholder meeting, Schultz aggressively defended Starbucks’ support of gay marriage, telling investors they were free to sell their shares if they were not happy with the company’s results.

In 2012, the company supported a Washington State law that legalized same-sex marriage.

There is no doubt that Shultz is a solid business leader – the performance of his company speaks for itself.

However, Schultz is making a big mistake by putting Starbucks in the middle of the gun control debate.

There is no upside for Shultz to take a very public position on the gun issue. Instead of laying low and waiting for the issue to go away, Shultz decided to take a very visible stand where he runs the risk of instigating more gun protests at his stores and forever connecting the Starbucks brand to gun control.

Starbucks shareholders are invested in a company whose risk now includes the whims of a progressive CEO.

 

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