Starbucks is charging into one of the most controversial issues facing the nation -- guns. And the backlash and boycott talk has already begun.
Forget for just a moment whether you agree or disagree with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's decision to reverse long-standing policies in asking gun owners to leave their weapons behind when entering one of the chain's coffee shops.
Schultz's policy change raises the very real possibility of a public uproar, not unlike the one that enveloped Chick-fil-A last summer after that company's president spoke out against gay marriage. Individual critics are already using social media and Starbucks' own website to announce their boycott plans.
"There's always this fine line," said assistant professor Jason Snyder of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, noting that Schultz is the head of a publicly traded company and has shareholders to answer to.
The question, Snyder said, is: "What's the point of doing this?" Is Schultz using his position as a bully pulpit? Or is there a sincere concern about public safety?
"Whatever safety rationales you may think of, the risk of a boycott is probably much more salient to Starbucks shareholders," he said.
Ray Hennessey, editorial director of Entrepreneur.com, called Schultz's decision rare, and added in an online article that Starbucks could end up "alienating a large portion of its customer base."
The way Schultz described it in a public letter posted on Starbucks' website, he had no choice.
He said the policy change comes as the coffee giant had been "thrust unwillingly" into the debate. Until this week, the coffee giant instructed individual outlets to abide by local "open carry" laws. But that kicked up controversy on both sides. Pro-gun activists used Starbucks' policy to portray the company as a champion of "open carry" laws, Schultz said. And anti-gun activists used the policy to confront customers as well, Schultz's letter said.
It all culminated in the policy change: "...today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas — even in states where “open carry” is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel."