If there was any doubt about how cowed America is by the gun lobby, it was erased today by Howard Schultz, the president, chairman and CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company. After months of controversy over whether patrons should openly be allowed to carry firearms in the company's stores, Mr. Schultz issued an open letter to his fellow Americans announcing that he would not adopt a no-weapons policy but would kindly request that customers keep their guns at home.
The letter appeared (among other places) in a full-page ad in The Washington Post today, three days after a gunman sneaked a gun into the Washington Navy Yard and killed 12 people before being fatally shot by police. Even under those circumstances, Mr. Shultz felt the need to explain to gun advocates that "the presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers."
Unlike in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, there has been relatively little discussion of gun control laws in the days since the Navy Yard massacre. No doubt part of the reason for that is the failure of serious gun control measures after Sandy Hook in all but a handful of states (Maryland, thankfully, being an exception to the rule), the inability of Congress to take any action whatsoever, and the recall of two Colorado senators whose votes helped enact a package of sensible restrictions earlier this year. And part of the reason is that the gunman in Washington, Aaron Alexis, used a standard pump-style shotgun rather than an assault weapon or a gun equipped with an oversized magazine.
Indeed, the gun control laws in Virginia, modest though they are, may have helped prevent the tragedy from being even greater. Alexis reportedly tried to buy an AR-15 — the same kind of rifle used in Sandy Hook and elsewhere — but was denied because Virginia does not allow the sale of such weapons to buyers from other states.
What's shocking, though, is that the Navy Yard shootings seem not to have so much as given the nation pause in celebrating its gun culture. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry came to Maryland to try to poach the state's businesses, his marquee stop was at the gun manufacturer Beretta at its facility about 20 miles from Washington. A group called Georgia Gun Owners, which bills itself as the state's only "no-compromise gun lobby," issued a news release blasting incorrect early reports that Alexis had used an AR-15 and announcing that in response, it would give away two of those guns to sweepstakes entrants who sign up at Georgia gun shows in the next few weeks.
It's that kind of in-your-face gun advocacy that prompted Mr. Schultz's modest request. Starbucks' policy has been to have no explicit policy on carrying guns in its stores, instead deferring to whatever the law is in each state. Some gun owners took that as a pro-gun stance by the coffee company, and they held rogue "Starbucks Appreciation Days" at some stores. Gun control advocates have responded with demonstrations of their own.
The easy response is to say that Starbucks, faced with a dispute between its customers, did what businesses try to do — find a way to keep everybody happy and buying $4 lattes. But what's astonishing is this: Mr. Schultz had no problem picking a side on gay marriage — his company was among several to publicly back a marriage equality measure in Washington state — but taking a stand that coffee shops should be free of firearms was too controversial for him.
Mr. Schultz was cowed not by the nation's mainstream, responsible gun owners but by a radical fringe that wants to normalize the idea that everyone should be armed everywhere at all times. The group of people who insist on carrying guns to Starbucks won't be satisfied until they can pack heat in churches, schools, hospitals and offices. Horrors like Monday's shooting make no difference. What's frightening is that, in much of the country, they're winning the argument.