The National Gun Victim’s Action Council (NGAC) has announced a Starbucks boycott

A nationwide boycott of Starbucks stores and its products will be launched on Valentine’s Day 2012. Its goal is to eliminate the risk of guns in public places and ultimately to bring sane gun laws to the U.S.

The Best Photo Illustration Ever

(image: Fuzzy Gerdes, flickr)

So if you need an excuse to not go to Starbucks, there you go. I’m not involved in this action although I’ll support it.

My problem with boycotts is that it’s not always made clear to management why sales have dropped unless the boycotters can make it clear they are the reason for the drop in sales.  Additionally there is a chance for competing boycotts, for example Starbucks didn’t respond to a boycott by a Christian pastor because they supported a bill to legalize gay marriage in Washington State. So if you are going to boycott Starbucks tell them on Twitter with an @starbucks each time you don’t go into a store and why. Right now pro-open carry people are posting photos on Facebook of their guns next to Starbuck logos thanking Starbucks of “not backing down to bullies.” (which I find hilarious, who’s the bully here? The people with lethal force strapped to their hip or people with petitions, emails and flyers?)

I like to remind people that my actions to defund KSFO hosts, Michael Savage and finally Glenn Beck, were not boycotts. They were designed to convince advertisers that these people were tainting their brand. Then, after the advertisers stopped supporting the hosts, we went to the media company investors and pointed out that their “asset” was actually a liability (see my world famous call to Rupert Murdoch asking why he was subsidizing a money-losing Glenn Beck).  Sara Robinson called this process “getting Spockoed.

Since Mike Stark and I now talk about activism on Virtually Speaking once a month I’d like to share with the folks some specific local actions I did around the Open Carry issue in 2010 in Northern California that wasn’t a standard press release or physical protest that also didn’t involve Twitter or Facebook but did involve the media and educating local businesses and national chains around Starbucks to understand their rights when it came to Open Carry participants.

Below I’m going to lay out my actions. I’m not going to get into the issues of Open Carry, the 2nd Amendment or gun violence because then an army of “pro-guns everywhere” activists will show up to tell me how wrong I am and demand I respond to their well researched talking points coming out of the NRA (with their $250 million dollar budget). I’ve already had those discussions and I have my position on the issue.  This is about my process working my side of the issue.

Advance Work Before an Open Carry Event

When the California Open Carry group was planning an event at a pizza place in Palo Alto the day before the event I went around to the retail businesses in the immediate vicinity and asked them what their policy was for people who wanted to bring guns into their store. What I found is that none of them knew their policy, they also didn’t know their rights as a business manager (especially when confronted with someone who knows California 2nd Amendment rules backwards and forwards).

I not only explained to them their rights to ban guns in their stores I also gave them copies of sample policies used by other businesses like California Pizza Kitchen, Peets and IKEA as well as what they could say if an open carry person came into the business the following day. They were all very, very grateful for the sample policy and wording. Some of them also contacted their headquarters to see if they already had a policy in writing.

I also found out that they didn’t want any employees talking about this issue. The employees couldn’t talk to anyone officially on how they felt about working where Open Carry people were meeting after going to Starbucks.  (One Chili’s waitress was really pissed off, but had to serve them and be polite for tip purposes, she was from a rough neighborhood and asked me, “Why don’t these jokers go over to East Palo Alto and wear their guns around there?”)

Research Businesses Impacted by Open Carry Meet Ups
When an Open Carry event was planned in an area shared with other retail businesses further from my home I did a Google Map search of the area and found the closest big store in the same parking lot that had a policy against weapons in the store. I alerted their security staff to the Open Carry event at the Starbucks next door and advised them to brief the clerks and checkout people what they should do if someone was open carrying in their store following the Starbucks Meet Up. I did this for Target, a girls ballet school and a drop off babysitter place right next to the open carry meeting place.  I suggested that if they saw these people walking on their property and were concerned to contact 911. I also contacted the local police who might get these calls and asked what they would do if they got 911 calls from area businesses of a “man with a gun”.

Guiding Police Response and Setting up Negative Press Visuals for Open Carriers
The result of these actions was that the police sent out a team to one Starbucks meeting place in advance to make sure that there were no “misunderstandings.” (This also gave the Open Carry people the opportunity to show off their superior knowledge of 2nd Amendment law as it applies to their state, county and city. They carry video cameras so they can video tape their interactions with LEOs so other Open Carry people can use this later to rub the noses of the police in their open carry knowledge. One local TV station captured the police asking the Open Carry guy questions outside a diner. The Open Carry people considered this a ‘win’ because he wasn’t arrested and educated people about their rights and their attempt to normalize people with guns strapped to their hips in their community. I considered it a win because several people called the police about a “man with a gun” and there were no misunderstandings when the police arrived. Also the Open Carry guy looked like an smug jerk carrying his gun outside a Pottery Barn in the “raging crime district” that is downtown Livermore. Check out the video of him here)

Follow through with Local Customers, Staff and Corporate Management

Next I went to one of the Starbucks where this Open Carry event happened and asked customers what their experience was and what they thought after the open carry people were gone. Everyone I talked to was annoyed by the Starbucks policy and said that if they knew that regular people (not law enforcement) could come in the door with handguns strapped to their hips they would not go in or leave. When I asked the local Starbucks staff what they thought they wouldn’t talk to me but referred me to Starbucks Corporate PR. I called them and they had no comment but just directed me to their policy.

Creating Financial Pressure Outside of a Boycott
- The Insurance Angle
My next step with local businesses who held the Open Carry events in their stores was to find out who their insurance carrier was and ask them if they were aware that this business was actively hosting armed customers, and if their policy covered any “misunderstandings”. I think this is an important area to look into, but it is hard to find out who the insurance carrier of a company is unless they tell you.

I asked one national insurance carrier what the corporate financial consequences of a shooting in a open-carry-welcoming Starbucks would be if an innocent bystander was accidentally shot in a store. He suggested that Starbucks’ courting of the open carriers could add to their culpability and liability. Then he noted that following that incident most insurance carriers wouldn’t cover any businesses that courted and allowed open carry people.

Giving Starbucks A Face-saving Excuse to Change their Policy Without an NRA Backlash
I tried to get the director of insurance at Starbucks to comment on this but he wouldn’t return my calls. I believe that if the insurance director inside Starbucks explains the possible liability risks management might change their policy.  One thing that I want people to understand when working with corporations is that sometimes they need a  face-saving excuse to make a policy change. They don’t want to look like they caved to the anti-gun people, which would piss off the pro-guns people. The quote from Starbucks would look like this:

“Hey, we love all our customers, gun owners and non-gun owners, but those darn insurance companies are worried about liabilities if there is a misunderstanding. If we didn’t change our policy the premiums would go through the roof. Financially, going  without insurance is a non-starter. We will continue to welcome blah, blah, blah, please don’t boycott us NRA members yadda yadda yadda. Our hands are tied by those mean insurance companies, we love your business etc. etc. etc.”

I read the Open Carry web forums, they want to make people more comfortable with seeing people with weapons and want to educate people on their 2nd Amendment rights. I wanted to educate businesses on their rights and the rights of their other customers  when people bring firearms onto their premises.  I didn’t have an impact on Starbucks, but I did on a number of businesses in and around the Starbucks and helped them avoid becoming a battle ground for the next location that the Open Carry movement decide to go to when Starbucks finally changes their policy and bans weapons in stores.

Oh, funny story, when I contacted Starbucks headquarters about the insurance issue  I asked if I could open carry my gun to a meeting to the Starbucks store in the building and then up to the director’s office. Surprisingly they ban weapons in THAT store and in their offices. So they have no problem asserting their right to ban weapons when it comes to some stores and employees, just not for the people on the “front lines.”

Twitter: @spockosbrain

Bio: Spocko is a media activist who trains people to tell their stories to the press and public.