The Brady Campaign (TBC) is America’s foremost—or at least most media-friendly—gun control advocacy group. Fair enough. The Brady Campaign has the right to express their views and lobby for legislation as they see fit. But one wonders about their strategy. Like any effective organization with a skin in the gun control game—I’m thinking here about Front Sight Firearms Institute’s discounted training offer to Starbucks employees—TBC taps into the gestalt to keep itself in the public eye. So when the Seattle-based coffee chain made national headlines by saying that it would respect local gun laws, TBC was all over the story like a cheap suit. Actually, more like a dog with a bone. Despite extensive media coverage, the “Starbucks serves gun nuts!” meme has failed to gain traction; most Americans support law-abiding companies and individuals. Period. And yet TBC keeps after Starbucks. Their gun control jeffe Paul Helmke can feel the issue slipping away, and seeks to re-stoke the fires of indignation with a blast of bombastic blogging.
Starbucks says it doesn’t want to be embroiled in the gun laws debate. I don’t blame them for wanting to avoid controversy – but they can’t be left out of it. By choosing to appease these gun rights demonstrators – demonstrators whose antics make many gun owners in our country blush – they have put the concerns of the rest of their customers aside. By allowing guns in its stores, the company is jeopardizing the safety of its customers and employees.
Abiding by local, state and federal laws = appeasing extreme gun rights demonstrators. George Orwell would approve. No question: Helmke is a word bender.
Starbucks says it does not want to have to bar customers who are abiding by the law. But when Starbucks bars someone who is not wearing a shirt or shoes from its stores, or ejects someone who is loud and offensive, it is barring a customer who is abiding by the law. It is not against the law to dress differently or to exercise free speech rights, but it may be against company policy.
This argument is oddly compelling—in a completely irrational way. Equating the right of self-defense with the right to sit in a coffee shop without a shirt or shoes and yell at people puts TBC on Planet Claire, for sure. In fact, I reckon Helmke has been huffing pink air; he seems to be suggesting that customers should be allowed to “dress differently” (what happened to being undressed) and yell if they’re allowed to carry guns into Starbucks. If not, not.
As far as I know, “disturbing the peace” is against the law most everywhere you go in these United States. And don’t most city government require patrons to wear shirts and shoes inside restaurants in the interest of pubic safety (i.e. hygiene)?
Retail businesses have the right to set policies that go beyond the minimum requirements of the law in running their businesses. Starbucks has a policy that endangers its customers and employees, particularly since there are virtually no restrictions on who can openly carry guns – no permits, no training, no proficiency requirements and no knowledge of the laws is required. And since law-abiding gun owners can drop, lose or unintentionally misuse guns, allowing openly carried guns in Starbucks is bad policy. (Indeed, just this past September a gun activist at an “open carry” picnic was charged with reckless use of a firearm after his gun went off in a parking lot.) As long as it maintains that policy, we will be critical of that policy.
Helmke is not known (at least in these parts) for penning long or deeply considered essays. Here, though, he gains a little traction. But not much. The paragraph’s opening statement is both factual and indisputable: a solid basis for any argument. The next sentence puts Helmke on rhetorically shaky ground. To state that Starbucks decision to abide by the law puts its customers in danger demands proof. Which is something Helmke doesn’t have.
So Helmke weasels into a broad generalization to mis-characterize the situation in his favor. To wit: he states that there are “virtually” no restrictions on open carry and implies (by omission) that all states allow open carry. There are and they don’t. IGW (It Gets Worse).
In an attempt to avoid alienating gun owners—why?—Helmke suggests that the real danger isn’t a caffeine-charge nutso spree killer (who could, of course, be shot by a gun-carrying Starbucks customer). Nope. The real problem is accidental discharge (so to speak).
If Helmke had an example—ONE—of accidental discharge in a Starbucks, he’d have the rhetorical coup de grace. His opponents would be forced to argue on a rational, statistical basis. And as we all know, tearful victims’ family members trump stats every time. If the policy saves ONE hot chocolate-drinking child . . .
Unfortunately, as far as Helmke or I know, there hasn’t been a single example of an accidental firearm discharge at any one of the company’s 11,000+ outlets since the company began combating coffee jitters. Citing an accidental discharge at a gun rights protest where no one was hurt makes Helmke look like he’s grasping at straws. Which, of course, he is.
The gun extremist want an America where there are guns everywhere: not just in coffeehouses, but also in bars, churches, parks, banks and classrooms.
By capitulating to the gun extremists because they want this issue to “go away,” Starbucks has made a hazardous mistake. Having seen what the gun pushers demand when they are given an inch, I again urge the company to reconsider its policy.
Helmke’s summation plays to his base. Well, his base’s base instincts. By suggesting a world where only “extremists” want to be able to carry their legal gun into a coffee house, he characterizes anyone who opposes his point of view as a terrorist. Well, as good as. Equating the already established, incidentless policy of allowing guns at Starbucks at stores where it is legal to do so with lobbying for guns in schools puts TBC on the ragged edge or reason. And again, suggesting that Starbucks “capitulated” to gun rights supporter by not changing their policy and simply obeying the law, is dangerous nonsense.
Helmke does his cause no favors. His attack on Starbucks—complete with petition—alienates the very people he needs to attract: Americans who don’t really care too much one way or the other about gun control. Of course, that’s the same group that gun rights’ advocates alienate with their pro-gun absolutism. As always, as it should be, he who wins the middle ground in a legislative debate wins. As they already have. Now whether that result is constitutional, well, that’s another story . . .