04 March 2010

Stores Land in Gun-Control Crossfire


Starbucks Corp. and some other chain stores in the U.S. are finding themselves caught in the middle of a firearms debate, as gun-control advocates go up against a burgeoning campaign by gun owners to carry holstered pistols in public places.

The "open carry" movement, in which gun owners carry unconcealed handguns as they go about their everyday business, is loosely organized around the country but has been gaining traction in recent months. Gun-control advocates have been pushing to quash the movement, including by petitioning the Starbucks coffee chain to ban guns on its premises.

Anti-gun activists gathered at the original Starbucks in Seattle to push retailers like the coffee chain to ban customers from openly carrying guns, WSJ's Nick Wingfield reports.
Journal Community

Businesses have the final say on their property. But the ones that don't opt to ban guns—such as Starbucks—have become parade grounds of sorts for open-carry advocates.

Starbucks on Wednesday, while bemoaning being thrust into the debate, defended its long-standing policy of complying with state open-carry weapons laws, in part by stating that its baristas, or "partners," could be harmed if the stores were to ban guns. The chain said that in the 43 states where open carry is legal, it has about 4,970 company-operated stores.

The company added: "The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores."

In 29 states, it's legal to openly carry a loaded handgun, without any form of government permission. Another 13 allow an unconcealed loaded handgun with a carry permit, according to opencarry.org, which is a loosely organized Web forum for the movement.

In California, where it's legal to carry a gun openly without a license in most places as long as it's unloaded, growing numbers of armed people have been turning up at Starbucks, restaurants, and retailers, with handguns holstered to their belts to protest what they contend are unfair limits on permits to carry a concealed weapon.

The open-carry movement began spreading in 2004 after some pro-gun advocates in Virginia began researching state laws and discovered that many states don't have laws to prevent unconcealed carry of handguns.

"The concealed carry movement has been successful but open carry is coming up," in popularity, said Mike Stollenwerk, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and co-founder of the opencarry.org site.

"I feel other people have the right to carry firearms into a business if it's okay with the business," said William Moore, a carpenter from Lynwood, Wash., and an open-carry advocate who says he doesn't carry firearms into Starbucks coffee shops.

Supporters are spreading in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and other areas. Some are making lists of "OC-friendly" locales, and encouraging boycotts of businesses with no-weapons signs. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc., Best Buy Co. and Barnes & Noble Inc., are designated as "open-carry" friendly in some online forums or say they abide by existing laws. "Our practice is to comply with local and state laws," said Best Buy spokeswoman Sue Busch Nehring.

Open-carry proponents are also taking advantage of some momentum in state legislatures to expand gun rights, although most new and pending measures don't specifically address unconcealed handguns.

Should people be allowed to carry guns into places like Starbucks? The company says it'll abide by local laws, but customers in San Francisco tell Rex Crum they really don't relish handguns with their lattes.

Open carry hasn't been part of the official focus of the pro-gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, which has 4 million members.

In the past 20 years, the NRA has focused on expanding the ability of U.S. gun owners to carry a handgun in a concealed manner.

Today, 38 states have a "shall issue" permit process. Two states don't require a license to conceal carry. Eight states have "may issue" concealed carry laws, meaning permits will be given with the discretion of a local politician or police officer.

"We support the self-defense rights of law-abiding Americans in accordance with local, state and federal laws," says Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, who declined further comment on open-carry activity.

Some chains have banned guns from their restaurants, even in open-carry states, because of the impact it could have on non-gun-carrying customers.

"We are concerned that the open display of firearms would be particularly disturbing to children and their parents," said a spokesperson for the California Pizza Kitchen restaurant chain.

A Peet's Coffee & Tea spokesperson said that while the firm "respects and values all individuals' rights...our policy is not to allow customers carrying firearms in our stores or on our outdoor seating premises unless they are uniformed or identified law enforcement officers."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which partnered with Credo Action, an activist group that uses mobile phones to effect social change, says it has collected more than 28,000 signatures on a petition to get Starbucks to change its policy.

Pro-gun advocates have taken to openly carrying guns to Starbucks as a way of testing corporations's stances on state weapons laws, William Spain reports.

Allowing customers who are armed with unconcealed guns on the premises "can't be good for business—it galvanizes people, and some of them won't patronize Starbucks after this," said Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, a gun-control organization in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, not all baristas agree that the Starbucks policy protects them. "I think the policy shows complete disregard for the safety and sentiments of their workers. The only thing worse than a yuppie upset with how their frappuccino turned out is a yuppie with a gun who's unhappy with how their frappuccino turned out," says Erik Forman, a Starbucks barista and union member in Minneapolis.

The IWW Starbucks Workers Union on Wednesday issued a statement, saying "We appreciate the vigorous debate taking place by principled individuals on both sides of this issue. However, to date we are not aware of any efforts by Starbucks to widely engage its workers who are directly affected by open-carry gun laws. We believe an appropriate solution cannot be reached without doing so.

What Do the Supremes Think of Chicago's Gun Ban?

Fox News

Does a ban on guns constitute a "reasonable regulation"? Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago sure thinks so. "We have the right for health and safety to pass reasonable laws dealing with the protection and health of the people of the city of Chicago," Daley said. Despite the push by Chicago to make McDonald v. City of Chicago about crime, a majority on the Supreme Court today appeared to want nothing to do that argument. Justice Anthony Kennedy described the right to self-defense as being as "fundamental" as the right to freedom of speech. The question the court faces is how many of Chicago’s regulations beyond the ban should survive.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court said a ban wasn't a "reasonable regulation" when it came to regulations that the federal government can impose-- that there is an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to individuals allowing them to own handguns for self defense. They also ruled that people's guns cannot be required to be locked up and unloaded, since that would make it difficult for people to use them for self-defense.

The question that the Supreme Court addressed today in oral arguments is whether the same reasoning can be applied to state and city regulations. The Bill of Rights was originally passed to make clear that there were limits on what the federal government could do. It was only after the Civil War that Republicans in Congress passed the 14th Amendment to apply those same restrictions to states to protect citizens' freedom. Even more important, much of the Congressional debate focused on stopping Southern states from banning newly freed blacks from owning guns.

While much of the Bill of Rights has been "incorporated" to apply to the states through the 14th Amendment, so far the Supreme Court has not explicitly applied this to the Second Amendment. It's hard to believe the Court believes that part or all of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments apply to the states (the parts of the Bill of Rights that have so far reached the Supreme Court on this issue), but not the Second Amendment. It is this constitutional issue that is before the Supreme Court today, not whether gun control would be an expedient way to cut down on crime. Nevertheless, it is hard for anybody, including Supreme Court Justices, to ignore safety questions. Obviously, it is this latter issue that Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago hopes the court will focus on. And indeed, today James Feldman, an attorney defending the Chicago handgun ban, repeatedly tried to argue that Chicago’s law was needed to cut down on murder and suicide.

Gun control is often framed as a trade-off between freedom and safety, but as I discuss in my book, more guns don't cause more crime. Research shows that freedom and safety go together. If there are any doubts about this, we can simply look at the District of Columbia and its huge -- 25 percent! -- drop in its murder rate the year after the Supreme Court struck down its gun control laws. Much of that drop was undoubtedly due to the court striking down the gunlock requirement on rifle and shotguns, since Washington continued making it difficult for people to register handguns.

But Chicago does not need to look beyond its own immediate neighborhood for evidence. The figure at the top of this piece from the forthcoming third edition of my book "More Guns, Less Crime" shows how Chicago’s murder rates changed relative to the rates in the adjacent counties. In the five years before the ban, Chicago’s murder rate fell by 28 percent relative to those counties. (County level crime data only goes back to 1977.) In the five years after the ban, Chicago’s murder rate doubled relative to those other counties. The patterns are also similar when Chicago's or Washington's murder rates are compared to other large cities or the U.S. as a whole, where gun laws are much less strict.

We all want to take guns away from criminals. But all too often, gun control laws mainly serve to disarm law-abiding citizens instead. Police play an extremely important protecting people, indeed probably they are THE single most important factor, when it comes to individual safety. But, as the police know all too well, they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has been committed. If the government can’t protect its citizens, a majority of the Supreme Court appears to believe that people should be allowed to defend themselves.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. He is an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press). The book’s third edition will be published in May.

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