NRA wants to stop uniformed sheriffs from fighting its agenda
For years, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer has clashed with Florida sheriffs on gun issues. But what truly rankles Hammer is the spectacle of sheriffs traveling to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense, armed and inl uniform, to battle elements of the NRA's agenda such as open carry or campus carry legislation.
"It's just patently wrong," Hammer told the Times/Herald. "They are there to protect our rights, not to come to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense to take away our rights." She said it's "intimidation" for a sheriff to lobby for gun free zones while standing before a legislative committee with a holster strapped to his hip.
Hammer said a sheriff who wants to lobby for stricter gun laws should be required to take a day off from work, switch to street clothes and travel to Tallahassee at personal expense. She said she has found a House sponsor for a bill to address the issue, but no such proposal has surfaced yet, and the idea will face resistance because the timing seems all wrong.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has criticized the practice of local governments hiring outside lobbyists and says sheriffs and other elected officials should walk the halls of the Capitol, not pay other people to do it for them. Corcoran agrees with the NRA on gun issues, but he said sheriffs should be lobbying in person in Tallahassee.
"I think they have a First Amendment right to do that," Corcoran said. "A sheriff absolutely has the constitutional right to come up and advocate for what he thinks is best for the safety of his county."
An obvious target of Hammer's wrath is Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who again this session will be the Florida Sheriffs Association's point man on legislative issues and who has never backed away from a fight with Hammer.
Gualtieri called Hammer's criticism "self-serving and disingenuous," noting that the NRA doesn't appear to have a problem with sheriffs in uniform showing up to support the gun lobby's priorities, as Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey did in the 2016 session on open carry legislation. That bill stalled amid resistance from law enforcement and the singular opposition of a committee chairman, former Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami.
"It's totally self-serving," Gualtieri said of Hammer. "Let people engage. Let the chips fall where they may. They (the NRA) can wrap themselves in the Constitution all they want. I listen to my constituents."
Sheriffs are constitutional officers, and Hammer accused Gualtieri of violating his oath of office in his actions. "Sheriffs are elected and sworn to uphold the constitutional rights of their constituents," Hammer said. "Continuing to talk about taking away those rights is contrary to their oath of office."