The murder of Trayvon Martin turned a spotlight on Florida's law that authorizes the use of deadly force in self-defense. The law has been widely cited as the reason why shooter George Zimmerman has not been arrested.
Marion Hammer helped craft the law. She’s the powerful lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Florida. She’s also a grandmother who stands all of 4-feet-11-inches tall.
Hammer lobbied and pushed for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in 2005, among the most aggressive gun rights legislation in the country. Police say Zimmerman wasn’t arrested for shooting Trayvon Martin precisely because he stood his ground and claimed to defend himself.
Hammer declined to speak with NPR. However, in the past she’s repeatedly told a story about the night she pulled a gun on a carload of men who were threatening her. In a recorded interview a few years ago, she said the men quickly took off and the gun saved her life.
“I heard somebody say one time we don’t shoot to kill, we shoot to live,” Hammer said. “And that’s what it’s all about, being able to protect yourself when you’re under threat of death or great bodily harm,”
Last year, Hammer did battle with the American Academy of Pediatrics. She successfully lobbied the Florida Legislature to stop pediatricians from asking young patients about guns in the home.
“It’s a civil right, and we should not be discriminated against because we choose to exercise that right anymore than you should be discriminated against because of your sex, or your race or your political orientation,” Hammer said.
A judge later blocked the law for violating the free speech rights of doctors. Brian Malte is director of legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He calls Hammer an extremist.
“Marion Hammer and the NRA are the masterminds of a dangerous, paranoid mentality that got Trayvon Martin killed,” said Malte. “It’s a mentality that’s responsible for endangering all of our lives. It’s based on a lie that you need to be armed to the teeth anywhere you go.”
Hammer was the National Rifle Association’s first woman president and has been the group’s lobbyist in Florida since 1978.
NRA member and Republican Florida State Representative Stephen Precourt said of Hammer,
“Some people would maybe accuse her of being overly aggressive by pushing the envelope, but you really need to do that sort of thing to get good policy.”
Hammer’s short stature hasn’t stopped her from striking fear among the state’s legislators. They’re well aware of her ability to mobilize NRA members at election time.
Hammer lobbied for employees to have the right to bring guns to their work place and keep those guns in their cars in the employee parking lot. The powerful Florida Chamber of Commerce fought back. Chamber President Mark Wilson was on the losing end of that battle.
“No one ever wants to go up against her,” Wilson said, “but when she oversteps and thinks that the second amendment is more important than anything else in the Constitution and they start to try to take away your property rights, then groups like the Florida Chamber need to say wait a second, there’s got to be a balance here.”
Hammer is now 72 years old. She considers one of her proudest career accomplishments to be Florida’s concealed carry law. It allows permit holders to carry a gun in public places as long as the gun is hidden.
State Democratic Senator Chris Smith was a member of the Florida House when he voted against the Stand Your Ground law. “I think she’s wrong on most of her issues but you’ve got to respect somebody who’s passionate and a true believer in what they’re doing,” said Smith. “She actually believes the craziness that they do.”
Hammer has said the Stand Your Ground law should not be on trial because the law did not do anything wrong.
A task force was created after Trayvon Martin’s death to study the Stand Your Ground law and see whether changes were warranted.
The 19-member panel spent six months holding public hearings around the state. Its final report was issued in November.
No major changes to the law were recommended.