A Brief History of the NRA Rigging Florida's Gun Laws

NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre
NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre Gage Skidmore / Flickr
U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz tried like hell this week to defend the National Rifle Association from scorn after Nikolas Cruz used to an AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"The @NRA is an organization that takes 100% of the blame for the conduct of 0% of its members," Gaetz tweeted.

His argument would be laughably incorrect if he weren't defending an organization that has facilitated gun deaths in Florida and the rest of the nation for decades. Sure, he's technically correct that Cruz was not an NRA member — but that argument is a red herring. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer has singlehandedly written Florida's gun laws for the past 40 years and has done more than any Florida lawmaker to ensure that pretty much anyone anywhere in Florida can buy whatever kind of gun he or she wants — including a disturbed teen like Cruz. Hammer's influence extends even further too: She influences elections by personally instructing NRA members to vote against pro-gun-control candidates. Lawmakers are terrified of her.
In light of the New Yorker's massive Hammer profile (which was published Friday), here's a recap of how Hammer and the NRA helped turn the Sunshine State into the Gunshine State.

1. Hammer wrote Florida's concealed-carry law in the 1980s. It was the nation's first concealed-carry law and dramatically changed the way American lawmakers, courts, and citizens discussed gun rights:

From the New Yorker:

From this office, 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.
2. Likewise, she authored Florida's Stand Your Ground law (which then-state Rep. Dennis Baxley introduced). Studies have tied the law to a spike in homicides statewide:

Thanks to the National Rifle Association, academic studies examining the impact of gun laws on public health are hard to come by. The gun lobby helped force the federal government to ban funding for studies that track how gun rules affect the homicide rate.

But a few independent organizations have still taken up the cause. Yesterday the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an original investigation linking Florida's infamous "Stand Your Ground" law to an "abrupt and sustained" increase in homicides statewide.

"The implementation of Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law was associated with a significant increase in homicides and homicides by firearm, but no change in rates of suicide or suicide by firearm," researchers with JAMA's Internal Medicine publication write.

After Florida's Stand Your Ground law was implemented in 2005, JAMA says, there was an "abrupt and sustained increase in the monthly homicide rate of 24.4 percent" and a 31.6 percent jump in firearm homicides each month.

Importantly, the monthly homicide rate among African-Americans increased 32 percent, from 36 deaths each month to 48.

3. Another Hammer-pushed bill lets the governor remove any local legislators who enact city-level gun-control laws:

Via the New Yorker:

Legal papers filed by the N.R.A. assert that the organization was “deeply involved in advocating” for the legislation. Hammer oversaw its development. When government policy analysts suggested even minor adjustments to the bill’s language, they made sure to receive Hammer’s approval. In an e-mail to Hammer about three draft amendments, an analyst wrote, “Marion, I’ve spoken with you about the first one,” and went on to note that a different staffer “said she’d spoken with you about the others.” The e-mail concluded, “Let me know what you think.” The amendments addressed matters such as where fines should be deposited.

The sponsor of the bill was Matt Gaetz, at the time a twenty-eight-year-old Republican state representative. “That’s the sequence of how each piece is done,” Representative Dennis Baxley, a close ally of Hammer, told me. On bills that he sponsors, he said, “she works on it with the analyst. Then I look it over and file it. I’m not picky on the details.” (Gaetz acknowledges that Hammer was a “significant contributor” to his bill but denies that she oversaw its drafting.
4. If you cross her, she will accuse you of treason:

Again, just quoting the New Yorker here:

According to court documents filed by the N.R.A. in 2016, the group has roughly three hundred thousand members in Florida. They are a politically active voting bloc with whom Hammer frequently communicates through e-mail. Using supercharged, provocative language, she keeps her followers apprised of who has been “loyal” to the Second Amendment and who has committed unforgivable “betrayals.” “If you’re with Marion ninety-five per cent of the time, you’re a damn traitor,” Matt Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that one of her e-mails “packs more political punch than a hundred thousand TV buys from any other special interest in the state.” Hammer demonstrates a keen understanding of group identity. She and her followers are defending a way of life that is under threat. When a public official breaks ranks, Hammer exposes his “treacherous actions” and “traitorous nature.” She then invites her supporters to contact the official. “Tell him how you feel,” she advises. “please do it today—time is short!!!”

Greg Evers, a former Republican state senator who, before he died last August, worked closely with Hammer, estimated that her e-mails reach “two or three million” people. Florida has issued around 1.8 million concealed-carry permits, by far the most in the country, and there are 4.6 million registered Republican voters in the state. “The number of fanatical supporters who will take her word for anything and can be deployed almost at will is unique,” Stipanovich, the strategist and lobbyist, told me. For many Republicans, her support tends to be perceived as the difference between winning and losing.

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.