Starbucks strikes right tone in hot-button gun control debate

Brands don't often get it right when reacting to current events. How many companies send ill-advised and even more ill-timed promotional tweets after a national tragedy or disaster?

Brands don't often get it right when reacting to current events. How many companies send ill-advised and even more ill-timed promotional tweets after a national tragedy or disaster?

That being said, Starbucks took exactly the right tone when dealing with the most hot-button of all US political issues: gun control.

In late September, Howard Schultz, CEO of the coffee giant, posted a letter to Starbucks' website asking customers not to bring guns into its locations. He hit the right pitch. The company came off as thoughtful and stressed that it was a request; Starbucks employees won't be forcibly disarming customers who don't abide. "We are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring guns into our stores," Schultz said. He noted that the company will not put staffers in the uncomfortable position of enforcing this request, but made it clear that weapons are no longer welcome in its shops.

This is a case where context is important. Fair or not, Starbucks has repeatedly found itself in the middle of the national gun control debate. In recent years, it was mocked by the comic strip Doonesbury for adhering to local laws that allowed customers to openly carry firearms in its stores. When gun control dominated the political agenda after the tragic shooting of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, last December, Starbucks again felt the heat from both sides of the political spectrum. Pro-gun groups praised its stance, while gun-control groups urged it to crack down.

Starbucks was smart to take a stand, and a sensible one at that. Schultz has made his political views well known throughout the years, recently urging an end to the federal government shutdown. But he's no Donald Trump. Schultz's letter takes a step back from the hot-headed rhetoric that dominates the airwaves and diminishes the political debate - take a look at some of the over-the-top replies to his letter on Starbucks' blog.

Some are critical of Schultz's decision, saying it goes too far or doesn't go far enough. However, it does show how well he understands one of his key stakeholder groups - his employees - and the unpleasant situation they'd be put in were they required to disarm uncooperative customers. Starbucks knew it wouldn't make all consumers happy with its request, and it would likely turn some patrons away for life, so it deserves kudos for not punting on the issue.

And Schultz's well-reasoned and thoughtful tone is a good example for leaders in Washington, DC, and in the media.

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