The Gunshine State

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The following is an excerpt from Tom Diaz’s book, The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It.

When it comes to lax gun laws and frequent gun violence, Florida is an epidemic in itself. Editorialists, op‑ed writers and journalists in the state’s own newspapers regularly mock it as the “Gunshine State.” The sarcastic phrase is a verbal play on Florida’s official nickname, “The Sunshine State,” adopted by the state legislature in 1970. The mockery is well earned. The state’s compliant legislature has been used for several decades as a Petri dish by the gun-mad scientists of the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA).

Marion Hammer is shown surrounded by eagles in her Tallahassee, Fla., office in this Feb. 2, 1993, file photo. (AP Photo/Mark Foley, File)

The NRA’s person on the spot in Florida is Marion Hammer. Starting as an NRA volunteer lobbyist in 1975, Hammer rose to become the first female NRA president. But Hammer told The Washington Post in 1987 that she was “certainly not” a feminist and scoffed at such women’s initiatives as equal pay for equal work. “That’s their fault,” she said. “No one ever gave me special favors.” She also told the newspaper that her personal arsenal consisted of fourteen handguns, six rifles, two shotguns and three muzzle-loading rifles. Currently an NRA board member, Hammer has been the executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida (USF) for more than thirty years. “Organized in 1976, with the assistance of the National Rifle Association,” according to a membership application, USF is “affiliated with NRA as the Florida Legislative affiliate.” Hammer herself “did business” with the NRA in the amount of $122,000 in 2011, according to the NRA. The exact nature of the business was not specified.

Gov. Jeb Bush, center, hands a pen used to sign a bill to Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association, April 20, 1999 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Tournay)

Throughout her career, Hammer has been portrayed as something of a cross between a chain-smoking bulldog and a steely-eyed, uncompromising drill sergeant. “Generally, the NRA brings out the redneck good ol’ boys with the gun racks, but when you scratch Marion, she’s no different,” Harry Johnston, a former Florida State Senate president, said in 1987. “She’s a good ol’ boy in a skirt.” For decades, this “good ol’ boy in a skirt” has lashed Florida’s legislators — Democrat and Republican, urban and rural alike — into impotent compliance while she rams the most bizarre and deadly “gun rights” laws imaginable through the halls of Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee.

Some have shrugged and concluded that Florida’s inert citizenry gets the kind of weak gun laws it deserves. But these virulent ideas — from Florida’s pioneering “shall issue” concealed-carry- permit law to the misshapen monster twins of its “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws — have been injected into the veins of scores of other state legislatures all over the country. The NRA, packaging its poison in the back rooms of a slick and well-funded network of right-wing legislators known as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has already pushed two great waves of ill-advised and poorly considered legislation into American life. The first was a nationwide weakening of state concealed-carry laws; the second, a combination of the “shoot first” castle doctrine and the “shoot anywhere” stand-your-ground laws.

It’s interesting that many rank-and-file police organizations sat out these waves of legislation. Some endorsed them. But a third wave — a mutated form of “self-defense” with law enforcement officers in the crosshairs — may be building. The idea is to grant citizens the right to shoot first, even at a police officer, if they conclude that the officer’s intrusion into their lives is unconstitutional. The disastrous potential of this “shoot cops” third wave has got the attention, and the opposition, of at least one otherwise gun-friendly police organization, the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Shoot first” may have been OK, even a good thing, when ordinary citizens were being put at risk. But it seems not to be such a good idea when cops are endangered.

Copyright © 2013 by Violence Policy Center and Tom Diaz. This excerpt originally appeared in The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

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