Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lawyers, guns and Starbucks

It was a shock, really, to see a pistol-toting customer waiting on line for a latte at the local Starbucks last week. OK, customer service is not what it was -- everybody can see that -- but aren't we just a tad more civilized than this? The answer to that somewhat-rhetorical question is, apparently, a resounding "not exactly." What else is there to think about the latest gun-enthusiast trend sweeping the country -- or, at least, growing in the 43 states that have laws allowing people to carry guns openly? Of course, groups behind the open-carry movement, which broke through to public consciousness last summer when opponents of the health care system overhaul proposed by President Barack Obama began showing up wearing sidearms at town hall-type meetings across the country, say they're just exercising their Second Amendment rights. “Our point is to do the same thing that concealed carriers do,” co-founder Mike Stollenwerk told the New York Times. “We’re just taking off our jackets.” It's a movement, apparently, designed to pressure government to relax restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. Armed gatherings -- known as meetups -- became popular almost immediately because California issues very few permits for concealed weapons while, like most states, has almost no restrictions on open-carried weapons. “It is a discriminatory issue in California,” said Paul Higgins, 43, moderator of a Web forum called “If you are politically connected, if you’re rich, if you’re a politician, if you’re a celebrity, you get a permit. Otherwise, you don’t.” The meetups were quickly barred from some restaurants, concerned that the open display of weapons would or did upset patrons, but other establishments have embraced the movement. There have been more than 140 meetups in California this year in restaurants and coffeehouses, including Starbucks, which has rejected calls for a ban. “The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores,” Starbucks officials said in a public statement this month. That's true, of course, but it's also not the whole truth. Corporate citizenship certainly means more than occasionally taking a stand on a subject of personal interest -- citizens have to decide questions and advise their government on a variety of issues. That is the role of a citizen in a democracy -- things are most often about other people but everyone has to help the government figure out what to do. And that figuring had better be underway, because some painful decisions are going to have to be made and it's better to make them before people start getting shot.

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