I saw a t-shirt like this at a Libertarian prepper Army surplus store just across the street from a Starbucks:

Starbucks Guns Coffee tshirt

(I don't really like either.)

I'm betting that gun-loving shop owner is getting his frappuccino fix elsewhere this morning. Sick of seeing his corporate logo co-opted by political poseurs, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz served up this civic-minded tweet last night:

Schultz's request isn't an official corporate ban, but it departs from the previous company policy of defaulting to local and state regulations for in-store gun policy. But Schultz says that the provocative display of weapons in his stores, as well as some of the vocal anti-gun activism drawn in response, doesn't fit the inviting "third place" atmosphere Starbucks sells:

I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want 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. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose “open carry,” we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion “open carry,” please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.

I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today’s request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors [Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks Coffee Company, open letter, 2013.09.17].

Schultz's statement and policy change reinforce a point frequent reader Rick and I were making in the comment section a couple months ago while discussing the July 27 open-carry march to Starbucks in Sioux Falls. Rick said that he was offended and intimidated when a man openly carried a gun onto his property during a garage sale. Pro-gun commenters told Rick not to be such a sissy: if he didn't want the gun on his property, he should have just asked the guy to leave.

Libertarians want to believe that they can do whatever they want, like carrying a gun in the open, wherever and whenever, without accepting the impact those actions have on others. They tell us not to be afraid of trained, law-abiding citizens carefully and manfully displaying constitutional firepower.

But CEO Schultz is saying the same thing as Rick and I: there is a difference between a conversation with a dude and a conversation with a dude with a gun. The presence of a gun fundamentally and unavoidably changes the power dynamic of an interaction. Words an employee might sensibly say to enforce company policy become a potential mortal risk when directed at an armed individual. Guns send a message that is inimical to civic discourse, education, and faith in democratic society, and that message has consequences.

Schultz has every right to create the store atmosphere he wants by asking customers to leave their intimidating weapons outside. Devotees of firearm intimidation have every right to take their business elsewhere.

But Schultz's policy change makes one thing clear: carrying a gun is not merely an exercise of an individual liberty. It is a social act, aimed at impacting others. And when an action impacts others, we have the right to regulate it through business policy and law.

Update 14:50 CDT: Libertarian blogger and gun activist Ken Santema earns his rationality points for the week by commending Schultz's "sensible" request.

Update 2014.03.31: I've got to turn off the comments on this post, since it's drawing heavy spam (from France!). I apologize for the inconvenience. If you'd like to post a comment here, please use my Contact form, and I'll post your thoughts.