This isn’t really a Starbucks issue, it’s an open carry issue,” says Helmke. “The gun lobby has been wanting to get more guns in more places, and they want that to be more acceptable to Americans.”

John Pierce, cofounder and spokesman for, one of the earliest open carry advocacy groups, agrees that the movement intends to normalize guns in America.

"This whole Starbucks thing only came to prominence because it happened in California, one of the latest states where the open carry movement has taken hold," says Mr. Pierce. In other states where open carry advocates have been active over the past decade, he says, he's seen increased acceptance for unconcealed weapons.

The movement in California has succeeded in bringing new attention to open carry. A California lawmaker has proposed a bill to outlaw the open display of weapons in public places, and cartoonist Garry Trudeau has been lampooning Starbucks in his most recent "Doonesbury" cartoons over its gun policy.