What Can Starbucks Teach Us as a Community?

There are a lot of takeaways from Starbucks’ reversal of it’s policy to tolerate people following state law on guns. I want to make clear that while this post speaks about open carry, I am not advocating against open carry generally. Someone open carrying to  get coffee in Tombstone, Albuquerque, or any of the other local cultures where OC is accepted, isn’t part of this issue, because open carry is just what they do. I’m not even advocating against using open carry as a political tool in all circumstances. The problem is that people who open carry need to understand open carry is a tactic, and not a strategy. Open carry is not the core problem, the problem is how some people are utilizing it. So what are the takeaways from this latest development with Starbucks?

When You’ve Won, Stop Playing

Quit while you’re ahead. If you stay at the table to keep playing, you risk losing everything you’ve won. We had the antis beat on the Starbucks issue several years ago, but all it took was a little poke by the other side, and our side swarmed in and kept trying to make Starbucks own us. It started after the second Starbucks Appreciation Day,  when everyone posted pictures of their guns along with Starbucks brand, and only got worse from there. Much worse.

Activism Without Political Understanding is Dangerous

There are about 80 to 100 million gun owners in a country of 300 million. Gun owners are a minority, even if  close to 80% of the population supports some vague, ill defined idea about the people having a right to keep and bear arms. People who are politically involved in the issue, that is people willing to vote the gun issue, are a minority of that minority. The reason we win is because we can often swing elections at the margins, and there are a lot of Democratic gun owners who love their guns, hate their party’s position favoring gun control (just ask Angela Giron), and are willing to cross the aisle if they get pissed off enough. But it is dangerous to forget we are a special interest, and one that represents maybe 3-5% of voters in any given election. Everything we’ve built in the past several decades rests upon the acquiescence of that majority of citizens who don’t have a dog (or gun) in this fight. Anything you do to antagonize that majority is detrimental. Starbucks ultimately took this action because that majority are their customers, and they don’t want gun rights to be part of their branding. This is an entirely sensible and understandable decision on their part of a company who just makes coffee. They were happy to live and let live, but then we kept re-inserting them into it, and trying to make their brand ours.

Open Carry is a Tactic, Not a Strategy, Nor a Goal

The problem with failing to understand the difference is that when people become narrowly focused on a particular tactic, they will shoehorn it into a strategy to achieve a goal where other tactics would be smarter. Virginia used to ban concealed carry in restaurants, but not open carry. So a lot of people decided to start open carrying in restaurants to highlight the absurdity of the law. Virginia changed it’s law. In that case the tactic worked for achieving the goal. It fit in with the strategy. That was not the case for California, and that was obvious to anyone who understood the political climate there (which takes us back to the previous point on political understanding). There was no reality where open carry activism was going to accomplish anything other than convincing the California legislature to crack down on what little rights Californians had left in regards to carry. On the other side of the coin, Florida disallows open carry except for a single, narrow circumstance, so using open carry as a tactic to point out the absurdity of the law can support the overall strategy to achieve the goal of legalizing open carry in Florida.

The Open Carry Movement has to Discipline Itself if it Wants Respect

What is the goal of open carry activism? How are open carry activists going to achieve their goals? If there is a better way to achieve that goal other than open carry, will they embrace it? Will they embrace it even if it means not open carrying at certain times or in certain places? If the answer to that last question is no, what does it say about how serious you are about achieving your goals? If you think open carry is the hammer to the nail of every problem the gun rights movement faces, you need to go back and think about the section on political understanding.

Open Carry Organizing is not Normalizing

What normalizes open carry is doing it with as little fuss as you can get away with. If you have to organize it, it’s not normalizing anything. If the primary focus of what you’re doing is your gun, it’s likewise not normalizing anything. For example, if you have five friends who love open carrying, and you go to dinner because you’re friends, the primary focus is on your friendship. The guns are just secondary. If you plan to go to dinner with the same five friends because “Hey, no one’s ever done an OC dinner at Bob’s Slophouse,” that’s not normal, and you have to consider whether your tactic fits with your overall strategy in achieving your goals. By the same token, if your reaction to a negative law enforcement encounter is “I can’t wait to share this with all my friends on the Internet,” rather than “I can’t wait to share this with my attorney,” you might want to rethink what’s really motivating you. The Starbucks Open Carry events did nothing to normalize gun carry. By definition, it made it a big spectacle that people would not normally see. If you want to normalize something, you ease people into it in such a way they don’t really even notice it.

A decade ago, you would have crossed the street if you noticed someone yammering to themselves without a phone in their hand. I know I did a double take the first time I saw someone in an elevator talking on a bluetooth earpiece. Now it’s so common no one gives it a second thought. It’s just something that slowly crept into our cultural understanding without anyone making an organized push. That’s really how it has to work with anything. If you push something on people too hard and too fast, that almost subliminal understanding never has the opportunity to take hold and people may react with hostility to the new idea.

Whether folks want to accept it or not, when you’re advocating for political change, you have to care what other people think of you, and how other people perceive you. Embracing a tactic because you find it satisfying without really thinking through to the larger picture is a common but very dangerous pitfall when it comes to advocating for political or social change. The goal and the strategy need to take precedence over enjoying the tactics. The problem with many open carry activists is that they have a lot of fun with their tactic, hardly bother thinking about strategy, and prefer fun to accomplishing goals. I don’t really blame them. But often the smart and effective tactics in social and political change are tedious and un-fun. Ideally there’s a way to use a fun tactic and accomplish your goal, but if you can’t have both, you have to be willing to do the tedious work if you want to win. Ask the organizers of the Colorado recall if they are champing at the bit to do that again? Doubtful. They did something that was tedious because it had to be done, and they had effective tactics supporting their strategy of getting Giron and Morse out. Those folks have done more to protect gun rights than all the open carry organizing put together, and I guarantee you it wasn’t fun for them, it was necessary.

34 thoughts on “What Can Starbucks Teach Us as a Community?”

  1. We can learn to roast our own coffee and not subject ourselves to overpriced, overroasted, overmarketed dreck.

  2. So, this is pretty much the anthem we need for open carry activism.

    May we heed the words and meet the call.

  3. A very, very well thought out essay.

    It is interesting to compare some of the elements to Saul Alinsky’s “13 Rules for Radicals,” which I think of because I recently had cause to review them. His Rules 2, 6, 7 and 8 may apply, and perhaps others if we think hard enough, in terms of what the OC movement failed to do.

    1. Sebastian and I have advocated for years that gun owners need to read and know Rules for Radicals by heart.

      You don’t have to like his politics to understand that he was very, very good at intelligently using smart tactics to achieve his goals.

      1. Then we are all on the same page!

        Tactics are tactics, and are independent of ideologies. Your ideology may guide you to forgo certain tactics, but you should never take pride in being ignorant of them.

        As you know, Mao and Che Guevara were masters of guerrilla tactics, and their writings have been reinterpreted for application to business, political campaigns, and any number of other fields totally unrelated to their embrace of Marxism. About 15 – 20 years ago there were several books with titles like “guerrilla tactics for the underdog competitor” on the shelves of Staples, Office Depot, and other business outlets, that all quoted Mao and Che extensively.

  4. I posted this over at gunfreezone.net:

    As someone that’s been OC’ing for damn near ten years, I agree. What brought about SB’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on ‘weapons’, wasn’t people like me that was polite, courteous, tipped well, and carried my Kahr P9 in such a manner that most people have never even noticed. No, what brought this about were the baffoons carrying their long guns, staging SB’s ‘appreciation days’, and other overall obnoxiousness. How many god damned times did they try telling us that they just wanted to be Switzerland?!

    But no, some people just couldn’t help themselves. More and more frequently we heard people from ‘our’ side saying, “Starbucks respects our second amendment rights”. No. No they don’t. They want to sell coffee and be left the hell alone.


    It’s this kind of dumbassery that caused this:

  5. Excellent write-up Sebastian. The single largest thing we can do to win the war is to normalize the safe and proper use and carry of firearms in every day life. And startling people or causing a ruckus does not help us normalize our rights.

    You can see this in the arena of freedom of the press. Blogging has started to become a normal source of information for people in their every day lives. The major media outlets are losing influence and business, so now they must resort to trying suppress those bloggers in a last grasp at squashing the blogging revolution.

    1. Originally it was to take a day, show our support for SB’s neutrality, and off-set any negative impacts the antis’ attempted boycott might have.

      Worthy goals, I think (even if the vast majority of antis stated they’ll participate by “boycotting” a place they don’t buy from to begin with).

      But then – I believe Sebastian is correct in implying it started in the second year – it morphed into a spectacle of OC (dare I quote Rob Pincus) “ass-hattery” as the “in your face” OC activist crowd mistook SB’s neutrality for active support and, wittingly or not, made them “own” our issue. The rest is history.

    2. That is ultimately the question the OC-activists owe the rest of us an answer to. What is your goal? What is your strategy? Is OC the best tactic to pursue that strategy and achieve your goal? If not, will you do it anyway because you care more about the tactic than the goal?

  6. 1. When You’ve Won, Stop Playing

    Yes! Why were people so stupid they wanted Starbucks to openly alienate half their customers?

    Starbucks (just like Kel-Tec, Remington, etc…) is in business to make money (not coffee or guns). The people who run the corporation might have their own personal beliefs about guns, but their job is to make money! Don’t make them chose if you already won!

  7. This is as well as the case has ever been made that friendly fire has killed more pro-gun opinion than the anti-gun groups. Sure, they’re shrill, emotional and illogical, but they’re sincere-even if they’re wrong. That makes them sympathetic. Going into a Starbucks with long guns – unless you’re working as a cowboy actor in Tombstone or something, makes you look like what you are: a clueless, uncouth lout who cares absolutely nothing about two things: the rights of others or how foolish you make yourself look when you’re trying to “make a statement.” Rob Pincus is right, you have made the point: you’re an ass-hat.
    Common sense, apparently, isn’t nearly as common as it once was.

  8. Come on, if you ask Giron why she lost, she wouldn’t say “pro-gun Democrats”, she would say, “voter suppression”.

  9. The random open-carry demonstrations (the ones planned to intentionally to engage police elements in a confrontation, to ultimately explore the legal bounds of laws as they currently exist) are the Le Leche League demonstrations of the self-reliance community. The primary difference is that open-carry demonstrations go where the practice is already allowed (in an attempt to raise awareness of existing laws) while the Le Leche tends to go where public breast-feeding already meets less than glowing acceptance.

    Regardless of the cause, the ultimate goal of each group, Open-Carriers and Public Breast-Feeders, is to be able to quietly go on practicing what the law allows and increasing areas where the practice is allowed primarily through demonstration. Usually, no business wants that sort of attention; hence, if you infringe on public breast-feeding by policy or action, prepare to have Le Leche League members descending, exposed, upon your establishment in force. Yes, you have a right (depending on the specific laws/policy); no, everyone is not comfortable with either practice. Theoretically, it will gain more acceptance with increased exposure…or perhaps it will produce a back-lash of resistance (ref. Oregon’s efforts to keep weapons out of the State House after demonstrations).

    Where the open-carry demonstrations have critically strayed was taking a business that was almost ideally benign (Starbucks has a policy to only go by federal, state, and local statutes and not create any additional policies of their own…i.e. exactly what both groups would want from the organizations they desire to influence) and turning if into a battleground for a contentious issue. What has this accomplished? It has made one business swing away from the desired outcome and likely push other businesses toward a position of non-support rather that non-interference because of fear that they might become the next unwilling battleground; no business wants that attention.

    Demonstrations need to be focused on a specific outcome (recognizing that exposure to current freedoms may increase action against the practice). Individual civil law enforcement officer education probably is not a good enough benefit for the cost of these demonstrations in loss of public support.

    Quit bothering the business who don’t interfere….just because they don’t interfere, doesn’t necessarily mean that they want you exposed items overly displayed in their establishments potentially causing them bad press and/or loss in revenue. Showing them support when the refused to kowtow to the opposition probably would have been enough without the slung long-arms.

    As Mr. Colion Noir has stated, “no one likes an a**hole”. Some people are disturbed by exposed breasts and some people are disturbed by an exposed gun. Don’t be “that guy” who creates enemies instead of forwarding the allowance civil liberties.

    1. +1000

      Confrontational tactics are used by many, many rights groups. As someone who is pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-legalized drugs, and pro-gun, it seems obvious to me that we have very much in common with la leche, gay rights groups, minority rights groups, etc. our advantage is that we have a constitutionally enumerated right to defend, but we must remember that we can use the tactics and language of civil rights to promote the 2nd amendment.

  10. Sorry, but all I see here is a manifestation of Mr. Franklins observation, “Those that will trade essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither.” Open carry is legal or it is not. Bearing arms is a freedom, or it is not. The Bill of Rights is not subject to public opinion. Many might argue that Starbucks, as a property owner, has the right to tell someone they cannot carry firearms onto their property, But the reality is this, the question is one of civil rights. Starbucks, or any other company open to the public, by saying that you or I cannot be on their premises if we are carrying a firearm is in fact violating our civil rights. It is tantamount to saying they won’t serve us because of the color of our skin, our hair type, if we have HIV, or we are in a wheelchair. It is tantamount to being searched by a police officer because someone told the cop they saw you steal something. It is discrimination. It is discrimination because the idea that “people with guns are up to no good, or are scary or are hick rednecks we don’t want to associate with” are all stereotypes that have nothing to do with the truth, just because someone carries a firearm does not make them bad. It is why the police cannot use the carrying of a firearm as RAS… because it is legal to do so, and having one is not the same as committing a crime with one. The real “ass hat” here is Starbucks CEO, because through is decision to ask people not to bring guns onto Starbuck premises, reinforces the sterotype that people with guns are second class citizens up to no good and it is acceptable to discriminate against them. What’s next, Starbucks telling me I can’t read my favorite blogs in their stores because they don’t agree with my political views?

    1. Yeah, so you don’t really have an end goal.

      “What’s next, Starbucks telling me I can’t read my favorite blogs in their stores because they don’t agree with my political views?”

      Given that it’s their store, yeah they most certainly can tell you that. Or, they could just ask you to leave and not give you any reason at all.

    2. Sometimes constitutional rights butt up against property rights. There are laws that override property owners’ rights in specific circumstances – a business open to the public cannot refuse service based on race, for instance, thanks to the civil rights act – but that same business owner certainly can ask you to leave if he objects to some activity of yours, even constitutionally protected activities. You can be ejected from a restaurant for soliciting for a political cause, taking photographs against the owners wishes or publicly preaching or handing out religious literature, even though those activities are all protected by the first amendment. Restaurants can establish dress codes and refuse service if you choose not to wear a jacket and tie, even though it isn’t illegal to walk around without a dinner jacket. I don’t believe Starbucks SHOULD declare their businesses gun free zones, and it seems that they would really refer NOT to – they want to stay neutral and defer to local law on the issue – but they can ban guns in their businesses if they want.

      I agree with you that gun ownership is a civil right, and shouldn’t be subject to majority whim. But just because civil rights SHOULD be recognized and respected, that doesn’t mean they WILL be automatically – you have to win respect for civil rights, and that means winning the battle for public opinion, like it or not. Did OC demonstrations at starbucks help win that battle, or did they hinder the cause?

  11. This is awesome. As one of those dems who loves his guns, hates his party’s position on it, and gets in arguments with his partisans anytime they think i agree with gun control, i’d add one more minor point: Gun rights are NOT a conservative issue.

    They are a constitutional issue, a live and let live issue, but not a partisan one (remember that reagan was california gov when he became father of modern gun control). Really about where you fall on the authoritarian-libertarian spectrum, which does not break down along conservative-liberal lines. That means that gun rights tactics and strategy are independent of the grab bag of conservative issues that are trotted out at every other rally.

  12. The bottom line is, unless it is a matter of life & death, pro-gun people should not frequent Starbucks.

  13. There are about 80 to 100 million gun owners in a country of 300 million. Gun owners are a minority

    I’d say this fact is somewhat misleading, considering those 80-100 million owners represent nearly 1/2 of the adult population. Most of them(certainly not all) are responsible, well-intentioned gun owners who are passing that sentiment right along to their progeny who will continue it….at least until the public ed. system completely disallows parental involvement in their children’s lives.

  14. You are a person with Foresight, who undertands Nuances, trying to affect the actions of those who think:

    (1) “Claims of Foresight are a sham, practiced by people who want to control me!” and

    (2) “Stop playing? Stop _playing_??? Give up my noise and hoo-hah?? Stop getting ATTENTION???” No way!!

    Some people are foxes, and others are mules. The foxes are already following your advice, and the mules won’t listen.

    Mules, for example, get all het up about electing a pro-gun _governor_. They don’t want to hear about changing the balance of the same state’s _legislature_ … that would be too much work.

    And they would carry around signs outside a Starbucks – ’cause then they get to yell and holler. But drive voters to the polls on Election Day? “Well gee that’s a work day ya know and I gotta …” etc.

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