Delta Stands Firm as NRA Backlash Mounts in Georgia

(CN) – As the political heat ratchets up on his airline for severing ties with the National Rifle Association, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo Friday that the company’s “values are not for sale.”

Bastian’s memo coincided this morning with the signing of a sweeping tax bill in Delta’s home state of Georgia — where the airline serves as one of the state’s largest employers.

Though an earlier version of the bill included a tax break on jet fuel, Republican lawmakers eliminated the provision to punish Delta for having rebuked the NRA in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle had threatened Delta in a tweet Monday.

“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA,” Cagle tweeted. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed the bill into law Friday after commenting earlier in the week that the political dispute should not grind efforts to a halt.

“This legislation – put at risk by the types of antics that tend to plague election years – serves as one of the single-largest income tax reforms in our state’s history, and I think Georgia’s families and businesses deserve to benefit fully from these significant tax cuts,” Deal had said Wednesday.

Deal took to Twitter on Friday to tout his signing of the bill.

“I join members of the General Assembly in celebrating this historic $5 billion tax reform deal,” Deal tweeted.

Delta did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon about the tax bill, but Bastian thanked Deal in his March 2 memo for his work on the tax exemption.

“He is a great friend to Delta,” Bastian said. “I know this action by the state legislature troubled him as it does all of us.”

The swift retribution for Delta came after it decided to stop offering travel discounts to NRA members, and asked the NRA to remove its name and company logo from its website.

But the legislative punishment, which was estimated to save Delta and other airlines $38 million, failed to persuade the company to change its position.

“While Delta’s intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course,” Bastian’s statement said. “Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”

Bastian added that Delta is reviewing and reconsidering discounts for other politically divisive groups.

Bastian attributed its new stance on the NRA to the group’s “controversial statements” after a gunman killed 17 students and educators at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. The shooting sparked a student movement, led by survivors, that has levied significant political pressure for gun reforms.

Bastian said the Delta discount for NRA members could imply Delta’s endorsement of the NRA.

“That is not the case,” he said.

Bastian insisted the company wanted to remain neutral in the national gun debate.

“Our objective in removing any implied affiliation with the NRA was to remove Delta from this debate,” the memo said.

The NRA did not return a request for comment on these developments.

As the fallout with the Georgia’s pro-gun lawmakers simmers, several states have tried to entice Delta to relocate its headquarters from Atlanta.

According to the Associated Press, governors from Virginia, New York and Connecticut have made pitches to Delta.

But Bastian said in his March 2 memo that Atlanta is Delta’s home.

“We are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here,” he said.

Delta is one of several companies, along with MetLife and Hertz, that have cut ties with the NRA after the Parkland school shooting. Other companies, including Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger and L.L. Bean have tightened up their gun-sales policies, announcing they will not sell firearms to anyone under 21 years of age.

Dick’s specifically has called on members of Congress to come to the plate as well, demanding a ban on assault-style firearms, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. The retailer also wants the country to make 21 the minimum age to buy firearms, require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law, close the private-sale and gun-show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks, and maintain a universal database of individuals who are banned from buying firearms.

“Even as strong supporters of the Second Amendment, we feel now is the time to have a meaningful discussion about common-sense reform with the intent of finding a solution. Our thoughts and prayers are with all victims of gun violence,” Dick’s CEO Edward Stack said in a statement. “We have heard you loud and clear, and we promise to keep the conversation going.”

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