SEATTLE — Coffee chain Starbucks Corp. is sticking to its policy of letting customers carry guns where it's legal and said it does not want to be put in the middle of a larger gun-control debate.
The company's statement, issued Wednesday, stems from a recent campaign by some gun owners, who have walked into Starbucks and other businesses to test state laws that allow gun owners to carry weapons openly in public places. Gun control advocates have protested.
The fight began heating up in January in Northern California and has since spread to other states and other companies, bolstered by the pro-gun group OpenCarry.org.
Some of the events were spontaneous, with just one or two gun owners walking into a store. Others were organized parades of dozens of gun owners walking into restaurants with their firearms proudly at their sides.
Now, gun control advocates are protesting the policy. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence launched a petition drive demanding that the company "offer espresso shots, not gunshots" and declare its coffeehouses "gun-free zones." And Wednesday, that group planned to deliver 28,000 signatures to the coffee giant's headquarters in Seattle.
The group also held a news conference near Seattle's Pike Place Market, just a few yards away from where the first Starbucks cafe opened. Gun rights advocates showed up as well, some carrying handguns in holsters around their waists.
Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign said carrying guns intimidates and frightens people, and said the group thinks Starbucks will "do the right thing" and change its policy.
"They're putting their workers in harm's way by allowing people to carry guns into their stores, especially open carry," Malte said.
More than a dozen gun supporters, some with Starbucks coffee cups in hand, chanted during the press conference, at points interrupting speakers.
"I think the (Brady campaign is) trying to strong-arm private businesses into banning the rights of the people," said Bev Carman of Everett, Wash. Carman held a sign that said: "Criminal Control not Gun Control."
Businesses can choose to ban guns from their premises. And Starbucks said Wednesday that it complies with local laws in the 43 states that have open-carry weapon laws.
"Were we to adopt a policy different from local laws allowing open carry, we would be forced to require our partners to ask law abiding customers to leave our stores, putting our partners in an unfair and potentially unsafe position," the company said in its statement.
It said security measures are in place for any "threatening situation" that might occur in stores.
Starbucks asked gun enthusiasts and gun-control advocates "to refrain from putting Starbucks or our partners into the middle of this divisive issue."