Her impact on state gun policy in Florida has has been felt from the state Capitol in Tallahassee to the streets of local communities across the Sunshine State for nearly the past 40 years. These days she’s finding herself in the unique position of fighting off efforts in the Legislature to pass gun control legislation that is being proposed in response to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland.
It’s a unique position for the National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer, the 78-year-old lobbyist and past president of the gun lobbying organization. For years she has essentially dictated gun law in Florida. But now she and the NRA face a public backlash as the result of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Valentine’s Day that left 17 people, mainly students.
The New Yorker’s Mike Spies has spent the past year working on a profile featuring Hammer and the political clout she wields in Tallahassee. His story is published in the March 5 edition of the magazine.
Spies calls Hammer “the most influential gun lobbyist in the United States” and says her “policies have elevated Florida’s gun owners to a uniquely privileged status, and made the public carrying of firearms a fact of daily life in the state.”
Hammer is not an elected official, but she can create policy, see it through to passage, and use government resources to achieve her aims. These days, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature almost never allows any bill that appears to hinder gun owners to come up for a vote. According to Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida Republican strategist and lobbyist, Hammer is “in a class by herself. When you approach a certain level, where the legislator is basically a fig leaf, well, that’s not the rule.”
In response to the recent school shootings, Gov. Rick Scott, along with the House and Senate, have proposed school safety plans intended to prevent another mass school shooting. All three plans include tighter gun control measures. They stop short of banning semi-automatic assault style weapons, which the NRA adamantly opposes.
But all three proposals would set a minimum age of 21 for buying any type of firearm in Florida and would banequire anyone who wants to purchase a firearm must be 21. They also would ban the sale of bump stocks and would create restraining orders that can be used to temporarily seize guns from persons determined to pose a risk to themselves or others. The House and Senate versions go a step further and would impose a three-day waiting period for most gun sales.
Hammer described the measures to the Tampa Bay Times last week as “political eyewash” that will only “punish law-abiding gun owners.”
Scott says the proposals are an effort to balance 2nd Amendment rights with personal safety.
“I’m an NRA member, a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and the 1st Amendment, and the entire Bill of Rights, for that matter. I’m also a father, and a grandfather, and a governor,” Scott said. “We all have a difficult task in front of us: Balancing our individual rights with our obvious need for public safety.”
It’s the first real battle over gun rights the NRA has faced in two decades since the pro-gun rights, Republican-dominated Legislature took control in Tallahassee.
It’s because of that clout that the New Yorker article says Florida is the state where the NRA launches pro-gun rights legislation. The story points out that 91 percent of Republican state lawmakers in Florida have received an A- grade or higher from the NRA.
Hammer has shepherded laws into existence that have dramatically altered long-held American norms and legal principles. In the eighties, she crafted a statute that allows anyone who can legally purchase a firearm to carry a concealed handgun in public, as long as that person pays a small fee for a state-issued permit and completes a rudimentary training course. The law has been duplicated, in some form, in almost every state, and more than sixteen million Americans now have licenses to carry a concealed handgun.
In 2004, the controversial Stand Your Ground law was introduced in Florida. Since then, Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted in about two dozen states. The law affords wide discretion to concealed-carry permit holders over when they can shoot another person. It eliminated a person’s responsibility to retreat and justified that person’s right to use force if they reasonably believed they’re safety was in immediate jeopardy.
Hammer’s clout and influence in Tallahassee, in addition to being an NRA lobbyist, is due largely to her longevity and term limits that restrict the number of years a lawmaker can serve to eight.
Unlike elected officials, who are limited to eight years in office, Hammer takes a long view of the legislative process… “Eventually, everything passes,” she has said. “That’s why, when folks keep asking, ‘What if these bills don’t pass?’ Well, they’ll be back. If we file a bill, it will be back and back and back until it passes.”
Hammer never shies away from a good fight when it comes to gun issues. This week is no different as she finds herself going up against Parkland students and parents, a large part of the public, Democrats and even the Republican-controlled Legislature. But, it’s a battle that involves gun rights and you can count on her to be at the center of a battle that she believes is essential to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans.