Opinion

Opinion | Margery Eagan

A look at the NRA’s most powerful lobbyist

Gun lobbyist Marion Hammer returns to her seat after speaking at the Senate Rules Committee meeting on gun safety in the Knott Building at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee in February.
Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press
Gun lobbyist Marion Hammer returns to her seat after speaking at the Senate Rules Committee meeting on gun safety in the Knott Building at the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee in February.

WHEN A 78-YEAR-OLD Florida grandmother, not even five feet tall, tells the state’s governor, Rick Scott, and his fellow Republicans to jump, they all but kiss her feet and ask how high.

Marion Hammer can regularly humiliate them because this tiny woman in a pageboy cut has long been the NRA’s most powerful Florida lobbyist.

In Florida, gun lobby interests reign supreme and legislators must defend Hammer’s most extreme positions 100 percent — not 95 percent, not even 99 percent — or she deems them guilty of “treacherous actions” and drives them out of town.

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By one estimate, she has an e-mail list of from 2 million to 3 million people. And since 1998, when the GOP took over Florida, 30 bills of her design — like the notorious Stand Your Ground self-defense law — have passed. Bills she didn’t want — like one forbidding guns in childcare centers — have died.

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Now, after the Parkland high school massacre, Hammer is ferociously opposing even the modest reforms the Florida Legislature passed last week, including raising the minimum age to buy a rifle and a three-day waiting period for new guns.

Will politicians who dared defy her soon, as per usual, go down? Or is her stranglehold finally loosened, if not removed?

This frustrating political tale comes from The Trace, a three-year-old nonprofit news site, partially funded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, that reports on one thing: gun violence in America.

With the post-Parkland gun reform “March of Our Lives” just 12 days away, The Trace, with its relentless gun focus, could help move you to change a sickening status quo.

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The Trace is becoming a one-stop shop not just on the gun lobby but also on inner city gun slaughters, gun suicides, and gun murders of American women, who make up nearly 90 percent of the female gun violence victims recorded by wealthy nations.

The Trace runs a tally of daily and annual shootings, including accidental ones. It just reported about the Las Vegas shooter’s gun accessories, the travails of gun victims who survive (tens of thousands every year), and an account of a middle school teacher’s experience during lockdown drills: “’Remember,’ I tell the children, looking them in the eyes of the darkened classroom. ‘Remember to keep the scissors open. They’ll stab better that way.’ ”

The site also reports on how NRA money, nearly half from members’ dues, pays not just politicians but also for damning political ads. In October 2016, the NRA sponsored 1 out of about every 20 TV ads in Pennsylvania, 1 of 9 in North Carolina, and 1 of 8 in Ohio. Their message: Hillary Clinton was coming for America’s guns.

Donald Trump, on whom the NRA spent $30.3 million, won all three states.

Yet James Burnett, the news site’s editorial director, sees cause for gun reform optimism, not federally, but in states, including red ones like Tennessee, that have moved to tighten laws. “And there’s daylight between Republicans in Florida and the NRA now in a way that there has not been before.”

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But will it last?

The indefatigable Marion Hammer fights on.

One example: Her signature Stand Your Ground law, adopted in some form now in nearly half of America, has not decreased but increased Florida homicide rates, particularly for African-Americans. A massive new RAND Corporation study comes to the same conclusion nationwide.

So did a 2012 investigation following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year old African-American coming home from buying Skittles at a 7-Eleven. The Tampa Bay Times also found that 70 percent of defendants using the defense went free. And George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, went free as well.

Yet during a Florida inquiry into her law’s link to Martin’s death, Hammer offered neither sympathy nor apology but said the NRA was “proud to have been a part of the process” that made Stand Your Ground possible in Florida, and across the United States.

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” Her column appears regularly in the Globe.