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03.28.12

Hammer Is the Woman Behind Stand Your Ground

The woman behind the Stand Your Ground Laws at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting is unapologetic about her love of guns. Michael Daly reports.

The woman behind Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” rhapsodizes about shooting squirrels and rabbits as a youngster.

 “I grew up with guns … It’s a way of life,” Marion Hammer of the NRA has said.

That is a pistol packer’s equivalent of saying “I was born this way.”

So maybe call her the Lady Gaga of guns. She certainly is wild about firearms.

“I’m four foot- 11, I’m 67 years old. If you come at me, and I felt that my life was in danger or that I was going to be injured, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you,” she declared the other day.

But do not call her simply a lobbyist. To do so drastically underestimates her while equally overestimating the state legislature.

Hammer does not so much lobby as orchestrate the legislature to do her bidding and therefore the bidding of the NRA, where she formerly served for three years as its first woman president. She continued to serve as a consultant and lobbyist known for standing her own ground. The NRA credits her with being the propelling force behind the Stand Your Ground Law that the Sanford chief of police and local prosecutor cited when they instructed the investigating detectives not to arrest George Zimmerman for shooting 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in February.

She has acknowledged having a hand in actually drafting the enabling Stand Your Ground legislation back in 2004. She introduced it through a proxy, State Sen. Dennis Baxley, whom she had previously arranged to receive the NRA’s 2004 Defender of Freedom Award.

Hammer was manifestly untroubled that the legislation was opposed by every significant voice in Florida law enforcement, notably including such actual defenders of freedom as Miami police chief John Timoney.

“You’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used,” he was quoted saying.

At the time, Timoney was finding it challenging enough to reduce the use of deadly physical force by the officers of his department. And here was a law proposing to give civilians with no training or experience even greater leeway than cops to blaze away.

But Hammer knew how to sell the bill in a way that a great majority of legislators would find politically irresistible.

“No one knows what is in the twisted mind of a violent criminal,” she testified before the legislature. “You can’t expect a victim to wait before taking action to protect herself and say: ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, did you drag me into this alley to rape and kill me or do you just want to beat me up and steal my purse?’”

She dismissed such objections from the most seasoned experts as  ”nothing but emotional hysterics.” She termed those who opposed the bill as a “bleeding heart criminal coddlers,” which most Florida politicians seemed to consider a synonym for “unelected.”

So maybe call her the Lady Gaga of guns. She certainly is wild about firearms.

The bill came to a vote in early 2005, passing the state senate by 39-0 and the house by 92-20. Every single state senator voted in favor of a measure that every responsible figure in law enforcement opposed. The legislators seem to have been not so much lobbied by Hammer as directed.

No doubt some of her enthusiasm arose from the $300,000 a year she earns for her consulting efforts on behalf of the NRA and the affiliate she founded, Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

Yet, she does not seem to be one of those NRA executives who are really just doing the bidding of the gun industry by cynically seeking to manipulate decent working people with the fear that government is trying to take away their rights. She seems to be a true believer and she has proposed a simple way to ensure gun rights.

“Get rid of all the liberals,” she said.

To illustrate the silliness of those who opposed the Stand Your Ground law, she once said, “Those who like to ban guns attempted to say this law would allow street gangs because they were legally in the street.”

In 2008, two groups of gangbangers got into a gunfight on a Tallahassee street not far from the statehouse where Hammer worked her magic. A 15-year-old named Michael Jackson was killed, but the two young men arrested for his murder were subsequently freed in accordance with the Stand Your Ground Law.  The judge in the case became the latest person of substance to decry the law, but he could do nothing but comply.

“The law would appear to allow a person to seek out an individual, provoke him into a confrontation, then shoot and kill him if he goes for his gun,” Judge Terry Lewis said when ordering the release of the two. “Contrary to the State’s assertion, it is very much like the Wild West.”

Where a lesser lobbyist might have been given pause, Hammer charged on, seemingly unworried that “justifiable” homicides in Florida had gone from under 40 a year to more than 100, drafting and pushing laws that barred doctors from asking patients if they owned guns and guaranteed the right of mourners to carry guns in cemeteries.

“There was a father who had already buried his son who had been killed in a car crash in the cemetery,” Hammer told a radio show. “And that father always carries his gun in his truck and frequently he would visit his son’s grave on his way home.”

She seemed to be in no hurry to voice similar sympathy for the father and mother of the unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, after a neighborhood watch zealot shot him to death. The Stand Your Ground Law has been used to justify the shooting.

“This law is not about one incident,” Hammer was quoted saying. “It’s about protecting the right of law-abiding people to protect themselves when they are attacked. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the law. “

The Lady Gaga of guns was not reachable for comment yesterday. She may have been out pushing for still more gun laws in keeping with her way of life, which has too often proved a way of death of others.