NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The debate over gun control is heating up at Starbucks.
Gun owners bearing arms have been gathering at various Starbucks locations in states where it's legal to do so in public. That's sparked protests from gun-control advocates and kudos from pro-gun groups.
The coffee chain says that its stores simply abide by state laws, and it is legal to carry weapons in 43 states. But businesses have the right to prohibit customers from carrying guns in their establishments despite state laws, and that's the crux of this particular dust-up.
"While we deeply respect the views of all of our customers, Starbucks' long-standing approach to this issue remains unchanged," the company said in a statement. "We comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve."
Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) said the gun-toting gatherings first began at its stores in Northern California after two other chains, San Francisco-based Peet's Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen, put policies in place to prevent gun owners from carrying firearms in their stores.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence then wrote a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, urging Starbucks to enforce a similar policy. On its Web site, the Brady Campaign is soliciting supporters through an online petition that urges Starbucks to offer "espresso shots, not gunshots" and reverse its corporate policy.
On the other side of the debate, gun rights advocates are pleased with Starbucks' decision. Forum members of OpenCarry.org, a pro-gun Internet community with nearly 28,000 members, are posting that they are "impressed" with Starbucks' stance and will regularly buy the company's coffee to show support.
Starbucks said if it were to adopt a policy prohibiting customers from carrying guns in states where it is legal to bear firearms, that would require its employees to ask law abiding customers to leave stores, putting them in an unfair and potentially unsafe position.
The company also said the gun-control debate belongs in the legislatures and courts, not at its stores.
"Advocacy groups from both sides of this issue have chosen to use Starbucks as a way to draw attention to their positions," the company said. "As the public debate continues, we are asking all interested parties to refrain from putting Starbucks or our partners in the middle of this divisive issue."
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