By Rob Cox
Sept 18 Starbucks' decision this week to ask
customers to leave their guns at the door will please many of
its loyal customers. Gun safety advocates are also claiming the
move as a major victory and are promising to move on to other
retailers that allow guns in their outlets. Nobody, however,
should be as charged up as Elliot Fineman.
Ever since his son Michael was randomly murdered seven years
ago by a paranoid schizophrenic while dining with his wife in a
San Diego restaurant, Fineman has been on a crusade urging
Americans who favor safe gun laws to make their presence known
economically. Fineman, who founded the National Gun Victims
Action Council, contends that political pressure alone will not
shift the debate in favor of measures like universal background
checks. There must be an economic impact as well.
Starbucks' move is a big, tangible example of Fineman's
strategy coming to fruition. In an open letter published today,
the coffee-chain's chairman and chief executive Howard Schultz
made "a respectful request that customers no longer bring
firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas." Previously,
the company's policy was to simply follow local "open carry"
laws, though guns were prohibited from its corporate
It is not a complete about-face for Starbucks. For starters,
it is a request, not an outright ban. This is because the
company says it doesn't want its baristas to confront armed
customers. Additionally, according to Schultz, "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."
So while it may not be a perfect case study, it will do for
Fineman. He first raised awareness of Starbucks' permissive
gun-carry policy back in February 2012 - before the mass
shootings in an Aurora, Colorado cinema, a Newtown, Connecticut
elementary school and now the Washington Navy Yard reignited the
gun debate. On Valentine's Day of that year, his group partnered
with a couple of clergy organizations to launch a nationwide
boycott of Starbucks stores and its products.
By Fineman's calculation, since the boycott began some
10,700 Starbucks customers had stopped dropping in for their
lattes and cappuccinos, denying the company around $11 million a
year in sales as of this April. But a decision by some
gun-rights groups to stage events designed to create a media
sensation, called "Starbucks Appreciation Days," in which they
openly carried their weapons into the company's stores as a
protest against gun control measures, gave new impetus to
In early August, when a group of these activists descended
on the Starbucks in Newtown, located next to St. Rose of Lima,
the Catholic church that buried a half-dozen of its young
parishioners barely seven months before, Fineman's economic
embargo took off. It was embraced by gun-safety advocates like
Moms Demand Action and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence - who
between them have hundreds of thousands of followers, as well as
many parent and religious organizations across the nation.
Just over a month since, and Starbucks has caved. "We've
seen the 'open carry' debate become increasingly uncivil and, in
some cases, even threatening," wrote Schultz, referring to the
pro-gun protests. "To be clear: we do not want these events in
While the Starbucks decision wasn't perfect, it was enough
for Fineman to call off his organization's boycott. "Right now,
many of the Pro-Gunners' feelings are hurt and they are talking
about boycotting Starbucks," he wrote in an email this morning.
That, too, would backfire as it might embolden the chain to
consider an outright ban. Fineman is also encouraged by the
company's decision to take out ads this week in the New York
Times, Wall Street Journal and other papers explaining its
change in policy.
Starbucks might have been a relatively soft target. For one,
it has far more stores in cities and suburban areas - where
support for more restrictive gun regulations is highest - than
it does in rural areas, where gun-rights arguments tend to
prevail. Moreover, Schultz and Starbucks have in the past
endorsed liberal causes such as marriage equality.
But Fineman is emboldened by the outcome. By his reckoning,
there are nine million Americans who have seen loved ones lost
to gun violence, and another five million who have survived
shootings. Harnessing their buying power, along with that of the
many millions who support tighter gun laws, is his mission. Now
that he has had his coffee, he is energized to bring that
economic pressure to bear on another target.