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I remember when a fast food chicken sandwich restaurant became, out of nowhere, a hotly contested battle ground in the gay marriage debate. Everything was fine, everything was normal, everybody was eating chicken, until suddenly liberal activist organizations were encouraging gay men have heated make out sessions at their local Chick-fil-A, and Christians were countering with a Bible in one hand and waffle fries in the other. Boycotts, rallies, Appreciation Days, demonstrations, fundraisers — it was war. Personally, I have plenty of opinions on the topic of gay marriage, but on the topic of Chick-fil-A all I ever cared about was their chicken.

Millions of people cried out, “We must win Chick-fil-A to our side!”

And I courageously stood and shouted, “Can I get a number one with a Diet Coke?”

I didn’t think political discourse could get any more absurd than the Gays vs. Chicken War of 2012, but that was before the CEO of Starbucks said the word “gun” and the whole world exploded.

If you missed the “controversy,” it all started when Starbucks announced a few months ago that the guns policy in its stores would follow local laws and ordinances. If you live in a state where open carry is allowed, you can open carry in your local Starbucks. If you don’t, then you can’t. Simple. Sensible. Neutral. Cool, let’s all move on with our lives, right? Nope. Sorry, this is America and we’re bored, so we’re going to turn this thing into a crisis just for the hell of it. Some gun rights activists and gun owners (note, I said “some”) responded by marching into their neighborhood Starbucks toting ARs, AKs, and shotguns. They gathered in large groups, all packing heat as openly and visibly as possible, and took pictures to post on Twitter and Facebook. They wanted to “prove a point,” they claimed. But nobody understood the point they were trying to make, and I’m not sure they did, either.

I received several emails from people proud to show me photos of their “demonstration.” Invariably, it was an image of some guy flashing his holstered firearm in the middle of the store, while a lady in the background looks on with an expression of concern and befuddlement. My response was always the same: the store let you carry that inside, why are you punishing them for it? Yes, perhaps other patrons shouldn’t be worried just because half of the people in the store are armed to the teeth, but they will be worried. And you know it. So your act of “appreciation” is to hurt the business you claim to appreciate by abusing the thing you appreciate them for? I’m confused. And befuddled. Actually, I guess I can relate to that woman in the photo.

This is like if I permit you to wear shoes in my house, so you, rejoicing my leniency, celebrate by jumping into a mud puddle, stomping on my carpet and putting your feet up on my coffee table. Congratulations, I’ve just amended my shoe policy, and it’s all your fault.

I love gun rights, I’m a humongous Second Amendment advocate, and I have consistently and passionately used whatever little voice I have to advocate for the rights of gun owners, but this — this is not activism. This is a disservice to the gun rights movement. Responsible gun owners don’t parade around coffee shops with their shotguns just so they can post a photo of it on social media. Responsible gun owners aren’t impressed with themselves; they see the gun as a tool — not a toy, not a fashion accessory, not a “point,” not an excuse to cause a scene — and they carry that tool with a sense of maturity and discipline. I live in Kentucky. People open carry here all of the time. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest and I would fight tooth and nail against any politician who would try to abridge that right. But carting a bunch of firearms into a Starbucks just to prove you can? Come on. There are real battles to be fought, but they don’t involve mocha lattes and overpriced frappucinos.

Starbucks had a reasonable and neutral gun policy, but a select group of attention seekers wanted to force the company to choose a side. Starbucks, for some reason, has to be “pro-” or “anti-.” So a few days ago the CEO issued a statement ASKING his customers to refrain from bringing guns into his stores. He said people with guns will not be kicked out, and they will not be denied service, but he would like everyone to voluntarily respect the rule. Of course this announcement of a voluntary business policy was greeted with accusations of “discrimination,” and cries of “rights” being violated.

I don’t even like Starbucks; I know auto parts shops that have better complimentary cups of Joe. I’m also aware that the corporation has some left-leaning tendencies and, stereotypically, attracts a more liberal clientele. But I’m not going to act like they’ve done something wrong here just because I’m “supposed” to be on the other “side.” There doesn’t need to be a side. The gun rights fight doesn’t belong in a Starbucks due to the fact that, frankly,YOU DON’T HAVE GUN RIGHTS IN A STARBUCKS. Do you know why? Because it’s a private establishment and they can make whatever rules they like. They decided that it doesn’t particularly help their business to have customers in their stores, drinking coffee with a rifle propped up against the table, so they changed their rules accordingly. They have the right to do that, you have the right to go elsewhere. You don’t have the right to make your own rules for their private business.

Indeed, the only “rights” at stake here are the rights of private business and private property. I wish more than a few people in this country actually gave a damn about those types of rights. They aren’t as sexy or as flashy, but they are necessary. In fact, none of your other rights mean anything if you don’t possess the basic entitlement to govern your own businesses and set the rules on your own property. I’ve seen folks on the internet declare their intention to open carry inside a Starbucks regardless of the rules. Again, these are not activists. The gun rights movement should not embrace them. People who believe in liberty, believe in liberty it in all of its forms. They wouldn’t set their Second Amendment rights against another’s private property rights. They understand that our rights are in harmony, not in competition. In other words, the issue over at Starbucks isn’t gun rights vs. property rights, it’s just anti-property rights vs. pro-property rights. Gun rights have nothing to do with the situation.

Here’s how this works. A business owner comes to the marketplace and says: “Hey everyone. I’ve got this business I started. We make coffee, it tastes like you’re licking the pavement on a hot day, it’s fantastic. Anyway, here are the prices, and here are the rules, and here are our hours of operation, and if this all seems attractive to you, please come on in and let’s do business. Otherwise, you’re free to get your black tar coffee elsewhere.”

Now, we don’t get to counter with our own rules, and our own prices, and our own hours of operation. We don’t get to say, “you close at 9 but I feel like coming at 10,” anymore than we can say, “you don’t want guns in your store but I’m bringing one anyway.” We can go with their program, or we can go somewhere else. That’s it. End of discussion. We can impact the prices and the rules within the context of the free marketplace, but we don’t get to claim joint ownership of the enterprise and then complain that our rights are violated because we disagree with how they choose to do business. People who still choose to bring their weapons into Starbucks are choosing to undermine private property rights. They’re just as bad as the gun grabbers in DC, and perhaps even more hypocritical.

As a secondary concern, I’m really getting quite sick of this new American pastime where we troll business owners and force them to “have a position” on the divisive issues of the day, then promptly punish them no matter what they say. Some businesses choose to wade into ideological waters, but many are pushed into it. It’s ridiculous. Why can’t coffee and chicken be apolitical? Why does everything have to be a controversy?

Am I only supposed to do business with people who share my ideology?

What’s next? Are we going to demand that the guy who owns Radio Shack publicly endorse a side in the euthanasia debate? Then, if he’s against it, we can stick it to him by staging assisted suicides in the store, right next to the cell phone chargers. Hey, next time you stop to buy a drink from a little kid’s lemonade stand, insist that the child explain his views on campaign finance reform. Then, if he says the wrong thing, dump the lemonade on his head and stage demonstrations outside of his mom’s house until they’re forced to move out of the neighborhood.

This “controversy” is another example of the media presenting a distraction to the public, telling them “the sides” and sitting back while millions of Americans fall in line and react exactly how they were told they should. Of course plenty of “conservative” talk radio hosts jumped on this Starbucks Outrage Bandwagon because it’s easy and it will get the phones ringing. I tried to present a more nuanced and objective perspective and now I’ve got listeners emailing accusing me of being a “liberal” and a “traitor.”

Welcome to America. Now get in your preassigned box and toe the line. Don’t worry about thinking for yourself, we’ll do that for you.

**UPDATE: Many people have commented or emailed to challenge the consistency of my private property stance. They asked whether I’ve spoken out about the Christian business owners who have been persecuted and, in some cases, actually prosecuted for holding a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality. For the record, I’ve been all over this issue. I wrote about it recently, you can find it here: https://themattwalshblog.com/2013/08/16/youre-an-inbred-white-trash-hick-and-i-say-that-because-i-value-tolerance/

We have an Orwellian “Fairness Ordinance” here in Lexington, KY, that has led to a Christian businessman being charged with a “human rights” violation for declining to produce t-shirts advertising a gay rights parade. I’ve been one of the loudest voices against this particular unconstitutional atrocity, and many like it. You may disagree with me (a lot of people do) but I’m not inconsistent. Thanks for reading.

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