The Orlando nightclub massacre has once again reminded us of two things: that there is no shortage of hateful psychopathy in America, and that there is almost nothing our supposedly civilized society is prepared do to keep those afflicted with it from getting their hands on as many guns and as much ammo as they can hoard (though Democrats in the House and Senate finally took a step toward changing that with floor protests and an epic filibuster this week). Nowhere is the latter more true than in Florida, where no matter who technically is in charge of governance, the real boss is a septuagenarian NRA uber-lobbyist named Marion Hammer.
For 35 years, Hammer has locked the state legislature in her iron grip, pushing for laws to make it ever simpler to buy guns, broaden the number of places gun owners can tote them, and, via the Florida innovation called Stand Your Ground, signed into law by then-Governor Jeb Bush in 2005, to even make it easier to get away with killing people with them. Hammer’s Second Amendment absolutism is so thorough that this spring, she demanded that Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-run state legislature abolish a regional water agency, and that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi open criminal investigations into personnel at the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Why? Over the agency’s probing of pollution rained down on a state-owned park by spent lead cartridges fired at The Skyway Trap & Skeet Club in Pinellas Park.
Thanks in large part to Hammer’s effective lobbying dating back to 1978, Florida is among the easiest states in America to buy a gun. The state was among 26 to get an “F” on the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s 2013 scorecard which ranks the strength of gun safety laws. And anyone who can pass an FBI background check can buy whatever guns they want in the “Gunshine State,” as long as the gun isn’t fully automatic, and about one in 17 Floridians, including the deceased gunman who slaughtered 49 people and wounded 53 more at Pulse nightclub, hold a concealed carry permit. Florida, in fact, has nearly 1.4 million concealed carry permit holders: nearly double the number in Texas, and almost 400,000 more than the second-largest concealed carry state, Pennsylvania.
The Orlando gunman was on the radar of the FBI for expressing radical sympathies in the presence of coworkers and for alleged ties to an American named Abu-Salah, who became a suicide bomber overseas. He’d washed out of police officer training before landing a job as a security guard. He had a history of domestic violence, and his family and ex-wife pegged him as hateful, including toward gay people (though there are signs he himself may have been gay). And yet, days before his murderous rampage, he purchased a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, which was originally designed for Special Operations forces, and a Glock 17 handgun, with no problem at all.
In Marion Hammer’s Florida, there’s almost nothing that would prevent a deranged person from buying an assault rifle along with high capacity magazines. There’s a three-day waiting period for handguns, but no background checks required for private sales, no regulation on the sale of semi-automatic weapons, and no state license required to buy guns, other than a state-issued concealed carry permit. The state Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that would make open carry the law of the land in Florida; something the state legislature tried to enact at the NRA’s direction this year. In a rare rebuke to Hammer, the state Senate in February rejected the open carry bill, along with a House-passed bill that would have allowed guns on the state’s 40 public college and university campuses. There’s little doubt the bills will be back for another try, despite polls showing more than seven in 10 Floridians oppose allowing “campus carry.”
Despite that rare rebuke, opening the state to more firearms, in more public spaces, is a bipartisan affair in Florida. Democrats vote en masse for Stand Your Ground, and attempts to repeal it or revise it went nowhere, even in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Florida law prevents doctors from asking about guns in the home, even if they suspect domestic violence. And back in 2014, the Florida legislature even floated a bill that would throw out all gun-permitting requirements during “emergencies.”
So now that Florida has the dubious distinction of being home to the deadliest gun massacre in modern U.S. history, can we expect things to change? Don’t hold your breath.
Gov. Rick Scott has signed at least a dozen Hammer-backed gun bills during his time in office, including a 2011 bill voiding all local firearms ordinances; a 2014 bill allowing gun owners to display or point their weapons at anyone they think is threatening them without criminal penalty; a bill to speed up concealed carry permitting by the state; and bills preventing insurance companies from taking gun ownership in the home into account in setting policy rates and preventing schools from sanctioning kids who make play guns out of everyday objects (dubbed the “pop tart” bill, since that apparently is the kid gun enthusiast’s materiel of choice in Florida).
When asked whether it’s time to revisit state laws regarding the purchase of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Orlando slaughter, Scott deflected, opting for the standard, generic, politician’s “thoughts and prayers”—the same thinking and praying for which D.C. Democrats finally cried “enough.”
Florida is by no means alone. States across the country have been weakening gun restrictions every year since the Newtown massacre; passing laws allowing guns in bars and churches in Georgia, and in Texas, even inside mental hospitals. Up to now, nothing—not the slaughter of 6-year-olds and their teachers in Connecticut, or black churchgoers in South Carolina, or young revelers in Florida has moved the United States off its “guns everywhere” stance.
Marion Hammer’s Florida has become Marion Hammer’s America.