Over the years I’ve visited practically all of Santa Barbara’s coffee shops, but since I’ve lived closer to various Starbucks, these are the ones I now know best. Mesa Starbucks is quick and friendly: The baristas learn your first name right off, and it boasts its own “old guys” club staring at the walls between 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. Also, occasionally you can spot the former Mayor Marty Blum or Santa Barbara City Police Chief Cam Sanchez imbibing strong drafts of caffeine here. The State Street Starbucks where I most often quaff hot caffeine, next to Center Point Pilates, always feels full and flashing with vigor: busy Santa Barbarans animatedly chatting or oddly intent upon their electronic media devices. The Montecito Starbucks, on Coast Village Road, while busy, is slower and much more laid back than the others, and service feels lethargic albeit good-natured.

One cool moist morning at Montecito Starbucks, about a year ago, I’d ordered my usual “grande”-size coffee of the day (“in a venti cup, please”) and, turning with my cup to get milk, I suddenly noticed three fit-looking youngish men in neat clothes, each displaying a conspicuously large handgun on his right hip. They seemed like police or FBI or military, but their dark blue/black apparel had no insignias of any sort that I could detect, and I looked hard at these guys.

I asked to see the manager — whose name I never learned just as I don’t recall the exact date when this happened last year — and she was incredulous at my complaints.

“These are government guys who train near here, you should be glad they’re here,” she said (or words to that effect). “We’ve had robberies lately in this shopping center. You’re kidding, right?”

“No,” I said (as nearly as I can recall at this point in time). “I live in a civilian society, and having these fellows — likely good guys, so what? — practicing ‘open carry’ of their guns in Santa Barbara County is wrong. Ask them to leave, or to go lock up their weapons in their car. Are these weapons loaded? Do you really know who they are?”

Irate now, this manager said, “Hey—you know what? You go ask them to get out!” and turned back to her work.

Our country needs more gun control enforced by the government. My minor incident at Montecito Starbucks last year connects to a national gun rights debate which has recently popped up at various Starbucks around the country. While almost all local and state governments have strict “concealed weapons” laws, a surprising number of states never bothered to legislate against the right to carry an unconcealed firearm openly. In California, open carry of unloaded guns is generally allowed, and state law lets private businesses make their own decision on openly carried (unloaded) weapons in their establishments.

The open-carry gun nuts in San Francisco tested these rules at local Peet’s and California Pizza Kitchens. Both companies promptly and properly banned “open carry” in their stores in California.

I guess Montecito Starbucks thinks open carry is fine and dandy in their store, but they need to determine if these lethal firearms are loaded! Fortunately, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara Police (as the Montecito Starbucks on Coast Village Road is with Santa Barbara City limits) says the officers stand ready to answer customer calls, and will come to check whether the openly carried weapons are loaded.

The Second Amendment to our great United States Constitution, in order to ensure “the security of a free State,” guarantees citizens the right “to keep and bear Arms.” This seminal document from 1791 does not go on to define “Arms,” but most Americans are pretty sure the founding Fathers didn’t mean automatic weapons or Glocks with their incredible stopping power. And these weren’t little .22 caliber pistols sported by the out-of-uniform Montecito Starbucks warriors, but much larger and more menacing handguns in the Glock or Sig Sauer range – they appeared huge and menacing on the hip. The founding Fathers were basically thinking of long weapons – rifles and shotguns, with which a citizen militia could prevent overthrow of the Constitution.

The Montecito manager also told me the armed men could help if there was any violence in her store, like a robbery. I took this to mean she wouldn’t mind an open gun battle right in her store with about 35 customers nearby.

I agree with the online petition of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: “Tell Starbucks: Keep Guns Out.” The only way to completely prevent the open carrying of handguns in our state is to support California Assemblymember Lori Saldana’s (she’s a Democrat from San Diego) pending bill to outlaw openly carried weapons, loaded or unloaded. And readers should find out where their favorite coffee houses stand on openly carried weapons. Otherwise, we risk returning to the Wild West with each man armed for himself, a libertarian’s heaven but a civilized citizen’s anarchy.


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