The sleeve of the Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) latte I bought today informs me that "Something bold is brewing." Whatever it may be, let's just hope it's not packing heat.
Starbucks has ended up in the crosshairs of controversy by announcing that it will continue to allow customers to wear guns in its stores. Open-carry gun laws apply in 43 states, but most states allow retailers the latitude to ban them in their stores. Gun-rights folks are giving the company a 21-gun salute (thankfully, not literally) for its firearm-friendly policy, and many folks are exercising their rights to wear holstered guns in Starbucks stores. Needless to say, anti-gun activists are not amused.
Starbucks often seems to find itself in a boiling pot of politicized controversy. Several years ago, militant moms in Maryland demanded their freedom of, er, expression to nurse their babies in public in Starbucks. I guess the coffee chain's quest to be a "third place" encourages its customers to advocate for liberties that most people usually confine to their first or second places. I wonder why more such activists don't seem to make their points at McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) or Burger King (NYSE: BKC ) .
Still, I think Starbucks did the right thing; if state laws say people can openly carry their legally obtained firearms, fair enough. I believe that banning guns outright wouldn't keep them out of criminals' hands. And plenty of gun owners exercise responsibility and restraint with their firearms.
That said, whichever way it decided on the issue, Starbucks likely knew it would face tough public relations. As Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFMI ) John Mackey demonstrated by revealing his thoughts on health care, taking any sort of politically charged stance can anger a significant bloc of your customers. And in all fairness, guns are undeniably dangerous in irresponsible hands, and customers with guns -- even in holsters -- probably scare the ever-lovin' out of their fellow unarmed patrons.
What do you think? Good for Starbucks, or bad for business? Take aim and fire away in the comment box below.