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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Former NRA President Marion Hammer has been looking over the shoulder of Florida legislators for decades, and usually gets what she wants. So far, 2018 has not gone as well for one of Tallahassee's most prominent lobbyists. (Times files)
Former NRA President Marion Hammer has been looking over the shoulder of Florida legislators for decades, and usually gets what she wants. So far, 2018 has not gone as well for one of Tallahassee's most prominent lobbyists. (Times files)
Published Apr. 21, 2018

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that's just who Marion Hammer is these days.

Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians like they're her own set of Muppets.

Evidence suggests she not only has had the ear of legislators, but also their hearts, minds and whatever speck of self-esteem she has allowed them to retain.

And yet 2018 has, thus far, not been her best year. In fact, she's probably suffered more defeats in recent months than in the previous decade combined.

And now she's lashing out.

Loudly and frantically.

In an open letter directed to Second Amendment enthusiasts, and posted on Ammoland.com, the 78-year-old Hammer sounds more like an emotional teenager than the actual emotional teenagers who survived the Parkland school shooting in February.

She directs her ire at Republican legislators who "lacked the courage to uphold their oath of office'' and "no longer deserve your trust.'' She talks of a "selfish betrayal'' and a "breach of trust.'' She lambastes a lawmaker that she claims "caved to threats.''

She lists the names of all the Republican senators and representatives who voted for the gun control measures in SB 7026, and ominously suggests some may never again get an "A'' grade from the NRA.

Well, thank goodness.

If you are seeking a sliver of hope from an inexplicable tragedy, you may find it in Hammer's list of legislators. They did not betray or abandon anyone or anything. Except, maybe, Marion Hammer.

For the first time in recent memory, a large bloc of conservative legislators openly defied the most powerful lobbyist in Tallahassee. Maybe they were truly moved by the pleas of Parkland families. Or maybe they just decided this was their best political gambit.

Either way, they stepped out from under her oppressive and threatening ways. And that can only be a good thing for residents of Florida moving forward.

This isn't about the reforms in SB 7026 that added a three-day waiting period for people buying rifles and shotguns and raised the age for purchase to 21. Maybe you disagree with the law. Or maybe you think it's a knee-jerk reaction that won't have any impact on mass shootings. That's a fair argument.

But it is not the over-the-top assault on the Second Amendment that Hammer would have you believe. And it is not a breach of duty, honor or trust. The Second Amendment — just like the First Amendment — has always had limitations. It's just a question of where, on the sliding scale, we place those limitations.

For the past 30 years, Florida has almost always sided with gun owners on such questions. After Pulse and Parkland, it seems residents are willing to rethink some of those choices.

I'm not suggesting Hammer and the NRA should not have a voice in that debate. I'm just suggesting her voice should not drown out millions of others through intimidation.

Her power has always been in numbers. Her email list was legendary, and politicians justifiably worried about the possibility of Hammer rallying her troops to support another candidate in a GOP primary.

This time, there are other numbers at play. She is threatening 74 lawmakers with her letter. Seventy-four! She may find some new candidates to support in primaries, and a handful of incumbents may even lose their seats. But the great majority will not, and that could be interpreted as another NRA defeat.

The bigger picture is that a lot of Republican lawmakers finally decided they would not cower or be bullied, and that's a lesson that should be carried forward into the future.

Gun control — or if you prefer, Second Amendment rights — is an important issue. It's a messy and imperfect issue. It deserves thoughtful and well-informed discussion from every angle.

Maybe some legislators risked their "A" from Hammer to do what they thought was right.

That's a whole lot better than abandoning their pride to do what they were told.

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