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Starbucks grinds open-carry gun policy to a halt

Starbucks Coffee Company publicly requested its customers to refrain from bringing firearms inside its stores and outdoor seating areas.
Starbucks Gun Ban - Michele Richinick - 09/18/2013
New York Giants fan Jaime Cepeda checks his phone inside a Starbucks coffee shop near the Super Bowl Village on Feb. 3, 2012.

Starbucks Coffee Company publicly requested its customers to refrain from bringing firearms inside its stores and outdoor seating areas around the country—even in states where open carry gun laws are legal. The proposal took effect immediately on Wednesday.

Howard Schultz, chairman, president, and CEO of Starbucks, wrote in a public letter to all Americans that the chain is not banning customers from bringing guns into stores; rather, it is giving "responsible gun owners a chance to respect our request."

"We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement—not by Starbucks and our store partners," he wrote in the letter, which will be published as a national print advertisement in major U.S. newspapers on Thursday.

Local businesses are allowed to designate their own rules aside from states' laws. Until this week, Starbucks' customers could comply with the local laws and statutes of each state, some of which permit residents to carry weapons publicly.

Schultz's decision was "not necessarily prompted" by Monday's shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard that killed 12 people, but it was "more of a coincidence," Jaime Riley, a spokesperson for Starbucks, told MSNBC.

"It was prompted by the ongoing issues that our nation has been facing over time," she said. "Recent activities by groups on both sides of the gun debate have politicized Starbucks for their own benefit and have essentially brought our stores into the middle of this uncivil debate."

Starbucks made an exception within the request for authorized law enforcement personnel to continue to carry guns inside its shops.

The "complicated, highly charged issue" of gun rights in America has proved threatening from both sides of the debate, Schultz said. Last month pro-gun enthusiasts staged rallies outside Starbucks to show their appreciation for the chain's policy.

"To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners," he wrote in the letter.

Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America organized the first "Skip Starbucks Saturday" on Aug. 24 to boycott the company's policy of allowing its customers to carry guns openly into its shops. Starting Saturday, Sept. 21, the group will support the coffee chain's new decision with "Celebrate Starbucks Saturday."

"We're thrilled. We believe that this is the beginning of the end for guns in public," Shannon Watts, founder of the group, told MSNBC. "It's similar to when it became so distasteful to smoke in public or drink and drive. This is the first domino to fall."

Related: Starbucks' gun policy brews 'grande' protest

But the organization will continue to pressure Starbucks—as well as other companies—to ban weapons completely from stores and premises.

"We absolutely expect to see a full-fledged ban within the next 12 months," Watts said. "This is just the beginning."

Schultz shared the news with store partners in a YouTube video message. He urged anyone wearing a green apron not to confront customers who continue to bring guns inside Starbucks.

"We will continue to serve customers with a smile. If any customer becomes unruly from either side we might ask them to leave," Riley said. "It is a request we are hoping people will respect and honor."