Dems join push to bar guns in Starbucks

Connecticut Democrats are throwing their weight behind the campaign pressing Starbucks to prohibit firearms in their coffee shops nationwide.

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Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty endorsed a recent letter, spearheaded by family members of victims of December's shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, asking Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz to help "foster a culture of peace and ban guns from your stores."

The Starbucks gun policy, which allows customers to carry firearms, including concealed weapons, in accordance with local laws, "undermines the safety and well-being of our citizens," the signers say.

"[T]o prevent another Sandy Hook, we as a society must prioritize the sanctity of human life over the individual’s 'right to carry,'" the letter reads.

The gun control advocates are asking Shultz to meet them at the Starbucks in Newtown, Conn., site of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and discuss the issue over (what else?) cups of coffee.

Responding to the letter, Schultz spoke by phone last weekend with Gilles Rousseau, the father of Sandy Hook victim Lauren Rousseau, according to Po Murray, vice chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance, an advocacy group that helped organize the letter. Lauren Rousseau was a teacher at Sandy Hook, and a Starbucks barista, who was killed during the shooting.

Murray said the two had "a nice conversation," but Schultz did not commit to a meeting with the advocates.

"Nothing's firm," Murray said Thursday by phone, adding, "We would love Howard Schultz to come to Newtown."

Starbucks spokeswoman Jamie Riley confirmed this week that the company has responded directly to the letter but declined to provide details.

Riley also defended the company's gun policy, arguing that it should be up to legislators — not Starbucks — to decide what restrictions, if any, are necessary on gun possession.

"Gun violence is an issue we take very seriously," Riley said.

Gun control advocates are quick to point out that Starbucks does not allow its employees to carry guns and wonder why there's a discrepancy between workers and customers.

"When it's their safety, they care a little bit more," one gun control advocate charged this week.

Riley said "safety is certainly a consideration" in the company's ban on employees carrying guns.

It's hardly the first time Starbucks has been pressured to prohibit guns in their stores. The National Gun Victims Action Council, a Chicago-based advocacy group, has been pushing the coffee giant for years to alter its policies, to no avail.

Starbucks's position stands in contrast to a long list of other national companies, including Peet's Coffee, IKEA and Disney, which have barred firearms in their stores and vacation parks.

Starbucks's resistance to the pressure campaigns has not been overlooked by gun-rights groups, which have periodically staged "Starbucks Appreciation Days," when gun owners are encouraged to carry firearms into their local Starbucks shops.

Those events, which are not sponsored by Starbucks, have put the company in a somewhat awkward spot, caught between a desire to cater to customers of all ideologies and a fear of stirring a political controversy with the potential to alienate those wary of public displays of firepower.

Highlighting that dilemma, Starbucks closed the Newtown store early on one such "appreciation day" this month to preclude a standoff between gun-rights groups and gun control advocates.

Chris Carr, Starbucks executive vice president, said the decision was made "out of respect for Newtown and everything the community has been through."

"[W]e appreciate that our customers share diverse points of view on issues that matter to them," Carr said at the time. "We also believe in being sensitive to each community we serve."

Connecticut became ground zero in the congressional fight over gun restrictions after December's tragedy at Sandy Hook, where a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 young schoolchildren and six educators before fatally shooting himself.

The scale of the tragedy, combined with the ages of the victims, ignited a national discussion about the appropriateness of the nation's gun laws and the role of Congress in fighting gun violence.

President Obama launched an effort to tighten the nation's gun laws, including proposals to ban military-style assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The campaign was sunk by the Senate in April, when legislation expanding background checks on potential gun buyers was defeated by a Republican filibuster. The GOP majority in the House, meanwhile, has shown no interest in putting new limits on guns.

Blumenthal, Murphy and Esty have all been vocal supporters of tougher federal gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.