John Pierce has been wearing his loaded Glock nine-millimetre on his right hip "anywhere and everywhere" for most of his life, including his twice weekly trips to his local Starbucks in Minnesota.

Mr. Pierce is just one of many gun-toting customers who has placed American Starbucks stores at the centre of a battle over carrying guns in public.

Despite Starbucks' wish that it would rather stay out of this "divisive issue," the company's policy to let customers openly carry weapons in their stores where the law allows it has prompted outrage from the anti-gun lobby.

Starbucks has defended its position by saying it is merely complying with the law.

"We comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve. In this case 43 of the 50 U.S. states have open carry weapon laws," Starbucks said in a press release. "Where these laws don't exist, we comply with laws that prohibit the open carrying of weapons.

"The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores. Were we to adopt a policy different from local laws allowing open carry, we would be forced to require our partners to ask law-abiding customers to leave our stores, putting our partners in an unfair and potentially unsafe position."

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Mr. Pierce, the co-founder and spokesman for Open-,said he felt Starbucks had acted in a manner appropriate for a publicly traded company. "What Starbucks has done here is taken a neutral position," said Mr. Pierce.