Efforts to stay neutral in the heightened national gun debate are landing national corporations in uncharted waters.
While many businesses walked back relationships with the National Rifle Association after a school shooting spree killed 17 teens in Florida, some companies have been trying to strike a balanced message.
Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, attempted to defend its relationship with the NRA.
Delta Air Lines held out against the pressure — for a few hours. A spokesman at first defended Delta’s flight discounts to the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas in May as “routine” for large groups. The airline “has more than 2,000 such contracts in place,” a spokesman told the liberal outlet ThinkProgress on Friday night.
Come Saturday morning, Delta abruptly discontinued the discounts and asked the NRA to remove the information about the perk from the convention website. United Airlines released a nearly identical statement two hours later.
Delta explained that it still supports gun ownership but was moving away from a relationship with the organization.
“Out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides, Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business,” the airline said in a statement. “Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment.”
Delta also tweeted its decision:
Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— Delta (@Delta) February 24, 2018
The airline’s decision prompted political backlash.
The Georgia Senate blocked a lucrative tax break bill on Monday that would benefit Delta Air Lines after the Atlanta-based company severed ties with the National Rifle Association.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said he would not support tax legislation that helped the airline “unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA.” He echoed a growing number of conservatives who opposed the measure over the weekend.
However, many weren’t buying the lieutenant governor’s assertion that conservatives are under “attack:”
By the way, Lt. Gov. Cagle, Delta isn’t ‘attacking conservatives.’ It’s protecting its brand. Big difference.
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) February 26, 2018
Others noted that the politicians’ move to punish Delta was legally questionable and potentially damaging to Atlanta’s other economic interests.
“Of course, the government official has the right to free speech,” UC Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in an email. “But punishing a company (or person) because of its political actions raises very serious First Amendment issues. It is hard to evaluate at this stage, but for the state to penalize Delta for its political stance would be very problematic under the First Amendment.”
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Andrea Young, said in a statement that “politicians should not use taxpayer dollars to impose ideological litmus tests and punish organizations that express views that politicians dislike.”
Young added: “Amazon should take note,” a shot across the bow of officials hoping to woo the tech giant to Atlanta, one of Amazon’s 20 finalists for its second headquarters.
Also headquartered in NRA-friendly country—specifically Memphis, Tennessee—is FedEx. Despite public backlash, the shipping giant announced it would continue its discounts for NRA members.
FedEx Corporation’s positions on the issues of gun policy and safety differ from those of the National Rifle Association (NRA). FedEx opposes assault rifles being in the hands of civilians. While we strongly support the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to own firearms subject to appropriate background checks, FedEx views assault rifles and large capacity magazines as an inherent potential danger to schools, workplaces, and communities when such weapons are misused. We therefore support restricting them to the military. Most important, FedEx believes urgent action is required at the local, state, and Federal level to protect schools and students from incidents such as the horrific tragedy in Florida on February 14th.
FedEx is a common carrier under Federal law and therefore does not and will not deny service or discriminate against any legal entity regardless of their policy positions or political views. The NRA is one of hundreds of organizations in our alliances/association Marketing program whose members receive discounted rates for FedEx shipping. FedEx has never set or changed rates for any of our millions of customers around the world in response to their politics, beliefs or positions on issues.
Some criticized the shipper’s attempt to stay neutral:
If ending the partnership would be discrimination, then any partnership is discrimination. This is poor logic, and ethically disingenuous.
— Charles Louis Richter (@richterscale) February 26, 2018
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) February 26, 2018
Others supported the shippers’ decision:
I hate the NRA but this is correct, they just get the same discount as any other entity that’s part of the program. If you’re actually outraged, I’d say look into whether or not they ship with anyone else as well as nearly every group ships with multiple carriers https://t.co/PqwV5HfeVp
— Eggman (@EggmaniMN) February 26, 2018
The company has faced harsh backlash for its relationship with the NRA on social media as the hashtag #FEDEXBLOODMONEY was trending on Twitter:
Officially finished with @FedEx. Spent over $2,500 on them last year.
Boycott FedEx. #FedExBloodMoney
— hurry2020 (@JeevesReggie) February 25, 2018
— Living in the Upside Down (@NancyBarrera) February 25, 2018
Many companies have severed ties with the NRA, as corporate America sees a depreciating value in associating with the advocacy group.
“Unless you’re in an adjacent industry like hunting, having a public connection with the NRA is” highly detrimental to a brand, said Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Kwittken, a New York-based corporate brand reputation and crisis management agency.
Companies that have ended financial relationships with the gun group over the past four days include Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Enterprise, Alamo, National, Hertz, Avis and Budget car rentals; Symantec, Starkey Hearing Technologies, True Car, MetLife, SimpliSafe and the First National Bank of Omaha.
What do you think of FedEx and Delta’s attempts to strike a balance, PR Daily readers?