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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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No guns, please, at Starbucks

From an editorial published in the Greensboro News & Record on Friday:

Starbucks tried to stay out of the national gun debate but couldn’t. All North Carolina businesses face a similar predicament, even bars and restaurants (beginning Oct. 1) that serve alcoholic beverages.

Starbucks, the nation’s largest chain of coffee shops, long expressed neutrality on the question of allowing firearms on its premises. It followed local laws everywhere it operated. In most states, that meant opening its doors to customers with guns.

Following the law is more complicated than that, however. Some state laws, including North Carolina’s, give businesses a choice. They can post notices saying no guns allowed here. Deciding yes or no about guns, either way, is following the law.

Wednesday, Starbucks took a position. It doesn’t want guns in its stores. But it won’t insist.

“We are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas – even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted – unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel,” Starbucks Chairman, President and CEO Howard Schultz wrote in an open letter to “fellow Americans.”

Open carry and, for those with special permits, concealed carry are allowed in North Carolina. The rights of law-abiding gun owners are protected by the state and federal constitutions. But those rights are limited. The legislature doesn’t allow citizens to carry guns into its own building. And the property rights of businesses trump citizens’ right to carry firearms.

Starbucks has decided not to press its right, for now. Schultz explained: “We want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request – and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers.”

Customers should respect that request. If they can’t, they can find other places to buy a cup of coffee.

Other businesses are in the same situation, although most probably wish they were not. They don’t want to alienate customers, but this is a divisive subject. Not exercising their right to prohibit firearms signals “guns welcome” and might worry people who prefer a no-guns environment. Taking the opposite approach might anger, and exclude, people who carry guns. The Starbucks alternative is gentler but still conveys a no-guns preference. But will it work?

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