Given that this article touches on firearms, can we just skip over the part where we call each other backward gun-loving hillbillies or freedom-hating communists in the comments section, and get to the part where we talk about jobs, tax exemptions, and economic development?

Probably not.

But we can try anyway.

After the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many companies either severed ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA) or revised their own policies regarding firearms sales. One of the first companies to end its relationship with the NRA was Delta Airlines. The Atlanta-based airline elected to end a program that provided discounts to NRA members traveling to the organization's convention.

In America's highly toxic political culture, that decision would inevitably generate the usual flood of angry tweets and comments threatening to never, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances fly Delta Airlines again.

However, the state of Georgia took the backlash a step further. Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, a likely candidate for Governor in Georgia's next election, threatened to alter a proposed bill that had previously included a sales tax exemption related to jet fuel. The bill, with the exemption included, had already overwhelmingly passed the Georgia House. Cagle and the Georgia GOP followed through with their threat and passed a new, stripped-down version of the bill without the sales tax exemption.

I work in economic development in the state of Missouri. There is a reasonable discussion that can be had over whether the original sales tax exemption is wise public policy, or another form of corporate welfare. That said, Georgia legislators didn't seem to have those concerns prior to Delta terminating its relationship with the NRA.  

For the record, Delta hasn't backed away from its original decision. In response to the legislative change CEO Edward Bastian said, "Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale."

No matter how one feels about guns, Delta's decision to terminate its relationship to the NRA amounts to one private entity electing to sever a business relationship with another private entity. Any society or government that truly believes in free markets understands that a fundamental feature of a free market is the ability to choose who one does and does not do business with. That idea forms the core of all conservative opposition to labor unions.

Despite its reputation as a business-friendly state, the Georgia legislature apparently has a different view on free markets. It's a view based on the notion that the state should use its power to compel one private entity to do business with another private entity.

The Georgia legislature is setting a dangerous precedent, and the thing about precedent is that it doesn't know left or right, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. If a legislature can punish a company for ending a relationship with the NRA, it could just as easily punish a different private business for ending a relationship with an organization typically affiliated with the political left.

One of the arguments for America's lax gun laws is a belief that firearms are what keeps a government from running amok and infringing on the rights of private citizens to make their own decisions and live their lives as they see fit. Ironically, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature has decided to toss aside that argument, along with the typically conservative value of keeping the government out of private business decisions.

That could be bad for the state of Georgia, as several other states have said they would gladly welcome Delta and its thousands of jobs, with or without the NRA.

And it could be bad for the rest of us who believe the government has no business telling us who we can do business with.

Published on: Mar 2, 2018