ATLANTA - The CEO of Delta Air Lines said Friday morning that Georgia's largest employer supports the 2nd Amendment, "just as we embrace the entire Constitution of the United States."

In a memo to employees, CEO Ed Bastian explained why the airline ended its discounts for National Rifle Association members, a move that came under sharp criticism from many Georgia leaders, including most of the GOP's gubernatorial candidates.

"On Saturday, Delta rescinded a one-time group travel discount for the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, and asked the organization to remove our name and logo from their website," Bastian said. "This decision followed the NRA’s controversial statements after the recent school shootings in Florida. Our discounted travel benefit for NRA members could be seen as Delta implicitly endorsing the NRA. That is not the case.

"Our objective in removing any implied affiliation with the NRA was to remove Delta from this debate."

READ | Delta's CEO statement to employees

Instead, Bastian said "some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course. Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale."

On Wednesday, the state Senate rules committee voted to remove an exemption of jet fuel sales taxes as part of a $5 billion tax relief package, despite Gov. Nathan Deal's endorsement of the measure.

Later that day, Deal announced he would sign the bill despite the committee's decision.

“We were not elected to give late-night talk show hosts fodder for their monologues,” Deal said, in response to recent national headlines over criticism of Delta Air Lines from state leaders. “We are called on to listen to all voices and draft policies to benefit Georgia.”

Bastian said the company is looking to end group discounts for any "politically divisive" organizations.

"None of this changes the fact that our home is Atlanta and we are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here," Bastian said.