Even before Governor Rick Scott of Florida publicly recommended his package of modest gun regulations, Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist in the state, was marshaling her vast network of supporters for a fight. In an email sent last Thursday, she warned supporters that an “organized effort to bully legislators into passing legislation to hijack your Second Amendment rights is underway.”
After Scott unveiled his plan last Friday, Hammer fired off another email. As usual, the subject line framed the missive below it in dire terms. “Florida Emergency Alert!” it read. “Don’t Let Them Blame You For Parkland.”
In the email, Hammer explained her vehement opposition to Scott’s gun reform proposals, which largely mirrored measures floated at a joint news conference of the Florida House and Senate that same day.
“We must address BEHAVIOR,” Hammer wrote, “and that is not accomplished through gun control.”
Florida Republicans have allowed the relentless pro-gun operator to become a de facto member of government.
Hammer is unaccustomed to open and broad dissension from Florida’s Republican-controlled government. In a profile of Hammer published Friday with The New Yorker — the product of a yearlong investigation — I detail the various ways in which state employees, legislators, and the governor have deferred to her. In short, she gives orders, and they typically follow them, sometimes directing state resources to pursue her wishes. At 78 years old, Hammer is nearing her fourth decade as the most influential gun lobbyist in the country.
It’s now clear that gun politics in Florida have arrived at a highly anomalous moment. Hammer’s threats of reprisal have squelched other gun bills before they’ve had a chance to gain momentum. But today, the Florida Legislature released its post-Parkland bill, despite Hammer’s staunch opposition and the certainty of the attacks she will level against lawmakers in the days to come.
Asked by Politico whether she was digging in for a fight, Hammer replied, “Absolutely. I have no answer for why Republicans who profess to be strong Second Amendment advocates would abandon law-abiding gun owners to pass gun control to pretend they are doing something.”
The legislation Hammer is seeking to block calls for raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle from a licensed firearms dealer to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period before gun buyers can take possession of their new weapons. Separate provisions ban bump stocks and create restraining orders that can be used to temporarily seize guns from persons determined to pose a risk to themselves or others. The bill would also allow school districts to arm certain staff members — a possible point of contention with both Democrats and Governor Scott, whose own plan instead puts forward minimum requirements for stationing law enforcement officers at schools, based on enrollment.
Florida’s regular legislative session runs through March 9. In order for the bill to pass as drafted, several Republicans in the state Senate, and a sizeable bloc of them in the House, will have to defy Hammer. She may also zero in on stripping out certain elements, such as the higher minimum age for rifle sales, in order to be able to declare a partial victory and claim that she still determines what gun legislation can become law in her state.
Already, however, this debate differs from how things usually work in Florida, when it comes to gun policy. Hammer is accustomed to bending the state’s Republicans to her will while few outside Tallahassee are paying attention. The tug-of-war now ensuing, by contrast, will play out before a captive national audience.