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OSD 176: Don't force people to have an opinion
How everyone can get along.
Imagine a New York City bodega owner. He moved to Queens from Pakistan in the early ‘80s. Every morning he wakes up at 4 a.m. to make it to the West Village in downtown Manhattan in time to take over for his sister, who comes off the night shift at 6 a.m. He takes one day off a week, Friday, and he spends most of it at the mosque — the social glue of the whole neighborhood of families that he moved over from Pakistan with — and running all the errands that he never has time for. There are a few hundred customers he sees often enough to recognize their faces. They pop in because he’s nice and because it’s an easy stop on their way to or from work. There are a few thousand other customers who are strangers, and they pop in for the same reason.
Imagine a married lesbian couple who own a 20-acre microfarm in rural Pennsylvania. They met at Harvard Law School, went to work at white-shoe firms in New York, and after 25 years had built up enough stress and enough money that they decided to retire to the country. (They do keep a pied-à-terre in Tribeca.) On the farm they raise chickens for eggs, cows for cheese, and plants for food. Three times a week, they drive the two hours to make deliveries to the three best (and most expensive) farm-to-table restaurants in Philadelphia. They also run a little country store, where the locals, who’ve all lived there for generations, like to stop by after church on Sundays for good produce. The tomatoes are coming in really nicely this summer.
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Transplants who’ve found an unlikely niche. Society is built of millions of these stories. It’s real mom-and-apple-pie stuff, you love to see it.
Now imagine that in the spirit of transparency — which is good after all, right? — a law required these business owners to post particular signs on the front door to their shop. A health inspection sticker. A certificate from the fire marshal saying that the fire extinguisher works. Oh, and a sign listing the owner’s views on a few topics:
How to discuss transgenderism in public schools
Whether God exists
The wisdom of the EPA and the USDA
Two things would happen at that point.
First, if they’re like most people, these business owners don’t have strong opinions about most of these things. Everyone’s busy, and there’s only time in the day to care about so many things. So the first effect of the law is to turn a multicolor continuum of a community where people have any of hundreds of different priority-adjusted views on a topic into a strictly binary forced choice. Everyone has to pick one of two tribes, no fencesitters allowed.
The second thing that would happen is that once everyone has been forced to choose a tribe, the nature of human society is that they’ll be forced to protect the tribe. And since breaking things is easier than making them, that usually just boils down to hurting the other tribe. So you’d better not be seen helping a business whose door sign lists the outgroup’s views.
If everyone is forced to have an opinion, society quickly falls apart. The logical equivalent is important: society can only function if everyone is not forced to have an opinion.
Which brings us to New York. Last week the state passed a set of laws aimed at rendering Bruen a nullity on the ground. Among other things, New York now bans carry in:
All public transit
Houses of worship
Public parks and playgrounds
Importantly: all private businesses by default, period, unless the business posts a sign (exact specs determined by the legislature) indicating that they welcome carry on the property
Carrying in contravention of these bans is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
We can see the future on this by looking at the inverse laws in carry-friendly states. All such states allow private businesses to post no-carry signs. And in all of those states, very few businesses post them. One take on that is, “Well sure, they don’t want to be mobbed by all the gun nuts in town.” But that doesn’t have much explanatory power when you see that even in, say, downtown Austin, TX, the (proverbial) Swarthmore grad who opened a coffee shop and the (proverbial) grandma who runs an antique store haven’t posted no-carry signs either. They’re not worried about their customers protesting — their customers wouldn’t protest, or even notice, if the business banned carry.
The better explanation is the simpler one: unless they’re forced to, most businesses would just rather not have an opinion. That’s why the yes-carry signs in gun-shy states will be as few and far between as the no-carry ones in gun-friendly states.
At the margin, yes, some businesses are really animated about this stuff. But defaults matter a lot. Even when what’s at stake is deeply personal — say, your 401(k) contribution amount, i.e. the critical question of how you value future savings against current spending — it turns out people just go with the default. With respect to carry, the vast majority of business owners just want the whole question to not be on their radar. For gun carriers, this knowledge is baked into an aphorism that you’ll hear whenever someone on a forum perseverates about no-carry signs: concealed means concealed. If you don’t make people have to care that you’re carrying, they won’t.
We’ll end on an example from a few years ago. A group of California open carriers used to meet up at their local Starbucks to hang out back in 2010. The Brady Campaign caught wind of this and organized a campaign to pressure Starbucks into banning open carry. Starbucks eventually released a statement saying that their open carry policy is to simply allow whatever local law allows. Technically this was a loss for the Brady Campaign. So a bunch of gun rights folks — who badly needed to have read this newsletter first — reacted by organizing a Starbucks Appreciation Day, encouraging people to carry at Starbucks.
That snowballed into the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, eventually needing to release a statement on the topic. It was titled “Our Respectful Request”. An excerpt:
Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That’s why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.
Our company’s longstanding approach to “open carry” has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don’t exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement — not by Starbucks and our store partners.
Recently, however, we’ve seen the “open carry” debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called “Starbucks Appreciation Days” that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of “open carry.” To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.
For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas — even in states where “open carry” is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.
I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose “open carry,” we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion “open carry,” please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.
A summary could read: “Listen I am a billionaire trying to run an eleven-figure coffee company here and I have enough things to worry about. You can absolutely carry in our stores, I don’t give a shit. But I do not want to have to think about this. Just keep concealed guns concealed, don’t make this into a thing, and everyone will be happy. If I have to think about this again, you’re going to force me into having to post no-carry signs. Please read some game theory.”
In other words (namely DMX’s immortal ones): don’t start nothing, it won’t be nothing. The New York law understands that dynamic and is using it to ban carry by exploiting the fact that business owners don’t want to start something. That’s cynical of the legislature, but it says something cool about people that they mostly just want to get along with everyone.
This week’s links
Stephen Gutowski over at The Reload dives into it.
Somewhat related, we talked about the dangers of centralized databases back in OSD 137.
SCOTUS GVRs their New Jersey mag ban case, California mag ban case, Maryland assault weapons ban case, and Hawaii carry case
This nullifies the rulings of the involved appeals courts and sends the cases back to those courts with instructions to re-review in light of Bruen. It’s likely that at least one of these appeals courts (the Third, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits) will continue to uphold mag bans or AWBs even post-Bruen, so SCOTUS will have a chance to weigh in again in 1-2 years.
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