Lobbying

Marion Hammer, the NRA's Most Powerful Weapon


Hammer in 1995

Photograph by KRT/Newscom

Hammer in 1995

Marion Hammer keeps a replica Charleville musket mounted above the desk in her Tallahassee (Fla.) office. Hanging nearby: a bullet-riddled target, the “First Ever Award for Ass Kicking” given her by a police group, and her concealed weapon permit, License No. 0000001. Hammer is no ordinary gun lover: As the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist in Florida, she’s the driving force behind some of the country’s most permissive firearm laws.

Hammer and Florida Governor Rick Scott in 2011Photograph courtesy Office of the GovernorHammer and Florida Governor Rick Scott in 2011

Hammer authored a landmark concealed-carry law in Florida that by her last count had been passed by 40 other states. She persuaded lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a bill restricting the questions doctors can ask kids about guns in their home, legislation that at least five other states have considered. Then there’s the Stand Your Ground law that generated controversy when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin near Orlando in February. That was also Hammer’s doing, and roughly two dozen other states have passed similar statutes. “There is no single individual responsible for enacting more pro-gun legislation in the states than Marion Hammer,” says Richard Feldman, a former political organizer for the NRA.

Hammer was five years old when she got her first gun: a .22 single-shot rifle that belonged to her father, who died in World War II. “He gave his life for freedom,” she says. “I feel that I am carrying on that fight.” She acquired a taste for politics in 1974 when she helped defeat a proposed ban on black powder, a form of gunpowder used in muzzleloaders, a gun she likes to shoot.

After the NRA’s state chapter put her on the payroll in 1978, personal experience continued to drive Hammer’s agenda. To get Stand Your Ground passed in 2005, Hammer told lawmakers about her experience one night in the 1980s when a car full of men threatened to assault her with beer bottles in a parking garage. She recounted how she pulled a Colt Detective .38 Special from her purse and aimed at the driver before the vehicle sped away. Last year, Hammer pushed for the law limiting pediatricians’ inquiries after one put a question about guns to her granddaughter, who lives with her.

“Marion is a very strong-willed person,” says Republican State Senator Charlie Dean. “If she gets something in her sights, get ready for a fight.” After Audubon of Florida’s president backed gun show regulations that Hammer opposed, she lobbied against the environmental group’s effort to name the endangered scrub jay the state’s official bird. She argued that the way the bird scrounges for food epitomizes a “welfare mentality.” In 2000, Hammer pushed successfully for a school voucher program that benefited her grandson. She also secured state funds to pay for speed limit signs in front of private schools like the one the boy attended.

For the most part, Hammer’s crusading has buoyed Republicans in her state. Governor Rick Scott credits her with helping him win his party’s nomination in 2010. Yet some admirers on the Left also see her as a mentor. “I talk to her every day during the session and seek her counsel on everything that matters,” says Lori Weems, a state lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.

After 34 years of perfecting the art of influence peddling, Hammer says she thinks of herself as “more of an educator than a lobbyist.” It’s an approach the 73-year-old hopes to keep up for 10 more years—at least. Says Hammer: “I have no plans to quit.”

The bottom line: Politics is personal for the author of pro-gun laws first passed in Florida, then replicated in statehouses nationwide.

Bender is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Washington.

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