Longtime NRA Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer retiring

Hammer worked in Florida politics for more than four decades.
Marion Hammer, a longtime Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, is retiring.
Marion Hammer, a longtime Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, is retiring. [ Times (2020) ]
Published June 16, 2022|Updated June 16, 2022

Marion Hammer, who became a nationally recognized figure in Florida gun politics, is retiring after four decades working as a state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Instead, Hammer will serve as an adviser to the NRA, focused on gun advocacy beyond just Florida, according to a Thursday statement from the gun rights organization.

“I have fought for Second Amendment rights and the rights of gun owners for many many years, and that’s my legacy,” Hammer said in an interview Thursday. “I stood tall against a wall of people who wanted to destroy the Constitution and punish law-abiding people for the acts of criminals.”

Hammer’s retirement means she will not be the NRA’s lobbyist during the 2023 legislative session, where a bill addressing permitless carry has been promised by a top Republican lawmaker. But she said she will try to push for the legislation from afar in her new role.

Hammer, 83, was considered a champion by many gun owners and a villain to decades of Floridians who wished to see greater gun control measures. Her push for fewer restrictions around firearms and for policies that defend gun owners is credited in part for Florida’s nickname, the “Gunshine State.”

Hired by the NRA in 1978, Hammer became an indomitable presence in Florida politics for the next four decades,.

In 1987, she helped push for a state law allowing Floridians to carry concealed weapons on their person. In 1996, she was the first woman elected president of the NRA. In 2005, she was instrumental in the passage of the controversial “stand your ground” law, which allowed Floridians who reasonably feared they would come to physical harm to respond with deadly force.

Both the concealed carry law and the “stand your ground” policy became model legislation enacted in dozens of other states.

A 2018 Tampa Bay Times review of Hammer’s publicly available emails found that her influence on gun rights issues was widespread. For example, one message to then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office about a denied concealed carry permit got a response within minutes.

In 2019, Hammer was tied up in an ethics investigation for failing to properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments. The investigation was closed without Hammer receiving any fines.

Sometimes, she pushed state officials on matters unrelated to guns. Voters got a brief glimpse of this in 2021, when the NRA opposed a drafted bill banning dog tethering.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a statement that Hammer “dedicated her life” to safeguarding the Second Amendment and was “standing in the breach against left-wing extremists who want to take our guns.”

“Marion is a friend and mentor to so many, and I know she will continue to use her platform to support the right of law-abiding Florida gun owners to protect and defend their families,” Simpson said.

Related: NRA sway: For Florida officials, it's always Hammer time

Her detractors say the policies Hammer pushed for made Florida more violent and less safe. And she wasn’t always successful in convincing the Legislature to come around to her way of thinking — particularly in recent years.

Following the Parkland high school shooting that killed 17, the Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott moved a bill that raised the minimum age for gun purchases, banned bump stocks and instilled a waiting period for gun purchase — provisions Hammer opposed. The minimum age provision has been tied up in the courts, challenged by the NRA.

The bill also included a provision for a “red flag law,” which allows law enforcement to petition a court and remove firearms from someone’s possession if they are believed to be a danger to themself or others.

The use of “red flag laws” is popular among Republicans and Democrats — but was opposed by Hammer, who called Republicans that voted for the 2018 bill after Parkland “betrayers” and threatened to dock their NRA ratings.

Then-Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who represented the city of Parkland, helped secure the landmark piece of gun legislation. On Thursday, Moskowitz called Hammer’s retirement a “great day for parents who want to keep their kids safe in school.”

“We took the air out of the NRA’s balloon here in Florida,” he said of the 2018 bill. “It was the first time people have said no to her, and her power has not been the same since.”

It’s true that since the passage of the Parkland bill, Hammer has been involved in fewer high-profile legislative controversies. Despite her maneuvering behind the scenes to get a permitless carry bill passed, legislation filed each of the last two legislative sessions went nowhere.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis this year called for permitless carry to pass the Florida Legislature before he leaves office. Hammer says she’s confident that lawmakers will heed the governor’s call in 2023.

Does Hammer agree with Moskowitz’s assessment that her influence has waned in Tallahassee?

“I would say to former Rep. Moskowitz: ‘Only in your dreams,’” Hammer said.