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A Starbucks in Newtown, Conn., closed earlier than usual Friday, ahead of an event planned by gun-rights advocates to thank the coffee giant for allowing people to carry guns in the store.
The early closure came after a request by advocates for the Newtown families affected by the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 that left 26 people dead, sparking a public outcry to restrict the sale of firearms.
"We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding this topic," Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Riley told Al Jazeera. "However, out of respect for Newtown and everything the community has been through, we decided to close our store early before the event started."
Monte Frank, the legal counsel for the anti-gun violence group, Newtown Action Alliance, said his organization, together with other anti-gun violence organizations, had requested the coffee shop's closure.
"I could not believe they'd have the poor taste to come here when the town is still grieving the losses it suffered," Frank said.
Last December, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at the elementary school, where Frank's daughter once went to school; 20 of the victims were children.
Frank heard Thursday that a group of gun advocates, prompted by a Facebook page calling for people to support Starbucks' policy on guns, were "headed for Newtown." Nearly 4,000 Facebook users had RSVP'd for the event, called "Starbucks Appreciation Day" Friday.
Starbucks allows patrons to carry guns in states with open carry laws, which allow gun owners to tote guns in plain sight. Connecticut allows licensed gun owners to carry firearms in public.
"Our long-standing approach to this topic has been to comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve," Starbucks said. "We continue to encourage customers and advocacy groups from all sides of the debate to contact their elected officials, who make the open carry laws that our company follows."
A spokesperson from Gun Owners of America (GOA), which is based in Virginia, said that it supported the "Appreciation Day" activities -- although it was not an organizer -- and that the answer to violent incidents like the Newtown massacre is to arm more "good people."
"Bad guys are going to get guns," Erich Pratt, GOA spokesman said. "They are going to take them into places where they are entirely banned, like in Chicago. Those are places where people are the least safe."
Chicago's city council voted in July to ban assault weapons.
"The very reason that children were sitting ducks and have been sitting ducks is because no one has been there to protect them," Pratt said.
Newtown Alliance aims to change Starbucks' policy on guns in open carry states.
"We hope to have a dialogue with Starbucks to change its policy not to allow guns in stores," Frank said. "If they are trying to be a socially responsible company, they have to make a socially responsible decision here."
Frank noted that as a private business, Starbucks has the right to forbid guns--Target, Whole Foods and Pete's Coffee have all banned firearms in their stores, even in open carry states.
"In many other matters, [Starbucks has] taken positions that are more aggressive than state law," Frank added.
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