Sept. 18, 2013 -- An open letter from Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz asking customers not to bring guns into the company's cafes has further entrenched the coffee chain into the nation's gun debate.
Schultz's letter, released Tuesday, states that the company and its employees have been "thrust unwillingly into the middle" of America's gun debate because of "Starbucks Appreciation Days," political action organized by pro-gun advocates, who enter Starbucks' cafes openly carrying guns.
"I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas," he writes in a letter posted on Starbucks.com.
Schultz says that the company has always followed local laws when it comes to the right to carry guns, prohibiting guns in stores where it is illegal. But his letter makes it clear that the company wants no part of local "Starbucks Appreciation Days," which he calls "misleading," saying they "disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of 'open carry.'"
In August the company decided to close down a store in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were gunned down in December 2012, after Starbucks learned that gun rights advocates planned to hold a "Starbucks Appreciation Day" at the location.
"To be clear: We do not want these events in our stores," Schultz writes. "Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners."
The letter stops short of announcing an outright ban on guns at Starbucks, because, as Schultz states, the company wants to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect the company's request.
Early today, the company posted the message to Facebook and Twitter, and elicited varied, albeit strong, reaction, with many gun rights advocates stating that they would stop frequenting the cafes, citing Second Amendment rights.
"No more Starbucks ... for our family. Gun-free zones only mean criminals have guns. It's my right. And my right to spend money elsewhere," one user wrote.
"A rule to be ignored. A coffee company's policy cannot trump civil rights," another wrote.
Cam Edwards, host of the "Cam & Company" radio show at NRA News, wrote in an editorial for Rare today that Starbucks was "asking gun owners to go quietly back into the closet.
"Unless Starbucks wants to declare itself a place where politics is verboten, it shouldn't run away when the debate leads to its doors," he wrote.
Edwards also suggests that Starbucks "demonstrate real corporate leadership" and invite debate from pro and anti-gun advocates in its cafes.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an advocacy group started the day after the Newtown shootings that has been pressuring Starbucks to ban guns from its cafes. Moms Demand Action has organized "Skip Starbucks Saturdays" and filmed pro-gun rallies at Starbucks locations to generate media attention.
Watts told ABCNews.com the letter marks a "huge domino to fall" in her organization's campaign.
"This is a sea change decision by a business icon," she said. "Their reversal of their gun policy sends a clear signal to our culture in America. Regardless of what Congress is doing, American businesses have a say in this debate."
Watts said that she believes Starbucks is planning on joining other retail chains like Peet's Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods with an all-out ban on guns in its cafes in the near future. When that happens, she says, will depend on reaction to Schultz's letter.
"If open-carry advocates have rallies now, they'll enact the ban overnight," she predicts. "But it is so hard to tell what will happen. What we have seen is bullying and intimidation by these gun advocates, who have tied 'open carry' with patriotism and freedom. They are infringing on everyone else's rights."