If there’s a gun issue in front of Florida lawmakers, Marion Hammer will be there to testify.
Hammer is a staple at the Florida Capitol. She’s been working as a lobbyist with the NRA since the late 1970s, helping the gun rights group push legislation they believe is essential to upholding Second Amendment rights.
But Hammer doesn’t classify herself as a typical lobbyist.
“I’ve never considered myself a persuader,” she told Sunshine State News. “I view myself more as an educator. When I educate with facts and common sense and reason, then [opponents] going to be with us. Education and knowing the truth [are] a powerful thing.”
Over the last three decades, Hammer has seen bill after bill pushed through the halls of the Capitol.
She's been in Tallahassee to see lawmakers pass some of the state’s biggest pro-gun laws. She’s outlasted state lawmakers who have termed out. She’s seen eight different governors and has testified on thousands of bills.
With Hammer at the front lines of their charge, gun rights groups have declared many victories in Florida in the last 38 years.
One of the biggest wins, Hammer told Sunshine State News, happened in 1987. It was during that year that Florida passed legislation to change its concealed carry permit requirements.
Up until then, it was wholly up to county sheriff, judge, or local police officer to decide who received a concealed weapons permit. But after 1987, Florida enacted a non-discretionary system where state authorities were required provide a concealed carry license to any applicant who met specific criteria, including a firearm safety course and a clean background check.
That legislation passed primarily due to campaigning from the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and NRA. Since then, Florida has issued around 1.4 million concealed weapons permits.
Another big victory for gun rights, Hammer told SSN, happened in 2005 when the Florida Legislature passed the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which says a person can use force to prevent or great bodily harm.
Stand Your Ground has been one of the state’s more controversial laws, making headlines and sparking discussion of the law in the Sunshine State following the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident.
Over the years, Hammer says the NRA has developed close relationships with other pro-gun groups like Florida Carry, a grassroots group founded in 2010 which has worked with the NRA to promote Second Amendment rights.
But the NRA has had its opponents -- Hammer said a few groups have pushed back against the organization, too.
Hammer said most of the opposition comes from national groups, not state groups. The Brady Campaign and the Bloomberg Group have been two of the biggest national organizations to fight back on gun laws.
“There just aren’t any statewide gun control groups,” she explained.
Lawmakers, too, have come out in full force against pro-gun legislation.
“Then of course, as of late the pushback comes from anti-gun Democrats.”
Opponents to gun legislation typically present statistics warning against gun violence and crime, but Hammer says a great deal of those studies are cooked.
“[These groups] are anti-gun by nature and they conduct studies designed to show what they want to show,” she told SSN.
The NRA doesn’t conduct their own studies -- if the group wants to study an issue, Hammer said they’ll hire an independent firm to do the work for them.
“We use professional studies,” she said. “Independent studies to start out to find an answer. [It’s] not a study designed to create a situation to prove a point. There’s a big difference.”
Hammer and the NRA have been overwhelmingly successful at passing pro-gun legislation through Tallahassee.
When asked if the group had seen any significant losses over the years, Hammer’s response? No.
“Eventually, everything passes,” she said. “If it’s important enough to start, it’s important enough to finish. That’s why when folks keep asking ‘What if these bills don’t pass?’ Well, they’ll be back. If we file a bill, it will be back and back and back until it passes,” Hammer said.
That’s likely the case for bills currently making their way through Tallahassee, like campus carry, which is presumably dead for this year’s legislative session.
At the end of the day, Hammer and the NRA won’t give up the fight for what they say is a battle for Second Amendment rights.
[Our] goal is to restore Second Amendment to the full intent of the founding fathers and to protect freedom at all costs,” Hammer said.
And to those expecting Hammer to go away any time soon? Not a chance.
“As long as there are people who want to deny your rights, somebody is going to have to be out there fighting to protect them.”