The CEO of Starbucks has asked that guns are no longer brought into the retailer’s US outlets after pro-gun advocates held a number of "Appreciation Days" for the company in which patrons frequented the stores carrying firearms.
However, the company has stopped short of placing an outright ban on consumers ordering a latte whilst carrying a weapon for fear of forcing staff to confront armed customers by asking them to leave.
The move by Howard Schultz, which treads a fine line between pro-gun activists and those wishing for tighter gun control, comes as the fractious debate over firearms was once again thrust into the national spotlight by Monday’s mass shooting at the navy yard in Washington DC, which left 13 dead, including the gunman
Speaking to the New York Times on Wednesday, Schultz 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.
"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."
Few US companies have a policy specifically banning firearms from their premises, particularly as most states have some form of licensing that allows citizens to openly carry a gun.
However, Starbucks, which has so far deferred to local state law, has come under increasing pressure from gun control advocates to change their policy, while gun rights campaigners have lauded the company for taking a stance - defering to the state - seemingly in opposition to its leftist, liberal image.
More recently, gun rights advocates have organised “Starbucks Appreciation Days”, in which patrons openly wear firearms in the outlets. It was in response to the growing number of these "Appreciation Days" that the CEO instituted a change in policy, however Schultz was clear that anyone who was wearing a firearm would "not be asked to leave".
Schultz said his company had been "thrust unwillingly" into the gun control debate, and said that the company, which is based in Seattle, plans to take out space across all the major US national newspapers on Thursday to explain in a letter why guns were no longer desirable in stores.
In a leaked copy of the missive, the CEO said that he will not ban guns outright because the company wants 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, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on".
However, on the "Appreciation Days", Schultz was adamant: "To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores." In the letter, he said: "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."
In August, the company closed down a store in Newtown, Connecticut, scene of December’s mass shooting by Adam Lanza in which 20 children and six women perished, after learning that an “Appreciated Day” was being planned by a gun rights group close to the Sandy Hook school.
Speaking to Reuters, Schultz said he was not worried about losing customers over the policy, adding: "I feel like I've made the best decision in the interest of our company."