Viewing gun rights as under attack after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association and its backers in conservative media spent 2013 using inflammatory rhetoric to attack critics and promote an uncompromising pro-gun agenda.
Both the NRA and its conservative media allies frequently attempted to draw modern-day parallels between Adolf Hitler's murder of millions during the Holocaust and the Obama administration's post-Newtown proposal to advance gun safety. One ugly event at the NRA's annual meeting saw the NRA's main political opponent illustrated as a Nazi, leading to condemnation from Jewish organizations.
Even victims of gun violence and the families of those killed at Sandy Hook could not escape the wrath of right-wing media, who insultingly called them "props" of the Obama administration, as if they were unable to think for themselves. The NRA similarly politicized the armed protection of President Obama's daughters in a widely criticized TV spot.
Ted Nugent, perhaps the best known member of NRA leadership, turned heads when he dubbed Trayvon Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" after the deceased Florida teenager's killer was acquitted. Even given his past racially inflammatory rhetoric, Nugent shocked many by piling on his Martin comment with a weeks-long tirade in which he endorsed racial profiling and claimed that the African-American community has a "mindless tendency to violence." The NRA declined to comment.
The year also featured a number of bizarre claims from the NRA, including the host of an NRA-produced television show comparing critics of his elephant hunting to Hitler, NRA head Wayne LaPierre's claim that gun ownership was essential to "survival," and NRA past-president Marion Hammer's comparison of an assault weapons ban to racial discrimination.
What follows are 12 lowlights from a year punctuated by extreme NRA rhetoric:
From the January 4 edition of MSNBC's MSNBC Live:
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Former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer compared a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban assault weapons to racial discrimination. According to Hammer, "banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago. But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It's just bad politics."
Hammer's comparison came during a discussion on NRA News about Sen. Feinstein's plans to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons during the new Congress. Hammer warned that the United States government could engage in firearm confiscation "in order to control the masses."
During today's meeting of a Florida taskforce that is investigating the "Kill At Will" law implicated in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, National Rifle Association representative Marion Hammer said that the NRA was "proud to have been a part of the process" in enacting the law in 2005.
We believe the law is doing what the legislature intended. It is protecting the rights of people who defend themselves against attackers and intruders. The NRA supported this law. We are proud to have been a part of the process. We are proud to say we worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to protect self-defense rights. And although there may be other bodies of law that do not go far enough to protect the innocent and the righteous, we don't see any basic need to change the premise of this law.
Hammer, who in closing stated that the NRA "see[s] the law as protecting freedom," served as president of the National Rifle Association between 1995 and 1998 and remains the organization's top lobbyist in Florida. She is hardly the first member of National Rifle Association leadership to express full-throated support for "Kill At Will." In April, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox told attendees of the NRA's annual meeting that despite "post-media hysteria" in the weeks following Trayvon Martin's death the gun rights organization "will defend those laws." At the same annual gathering, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed controversy surrounding the law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, on the national news media.
Hammer previously acknowledged in an interview with Media Matters that the NRA helped draft the law and "support[ed] it through the process." This account was confirmed by Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming who stated, "There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so."
The National Rifle Association's longtime Florida lobbyist acknowledged Monday that the organization helped draft Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which critics have dubbed "Kill at Will" in the wake of its connection to the Trayvon Martin case in that state.
Deceptively identified by its supporters as the "Castle Doctrine" (the term for the common law principle to defend one's home from intruders), the 2005 law states that civilians in any place they have a legal right to be, public or private, need not retreat in the face of what they perceive as threats but may instead use deadly force and be immune from prosecution, regardless of where the events occur.
"The NRA participated in drafting the Castle Doctrine and supporting it through the process," Marion Hammer told Media Matters. Hammer was president of the NRA from 1995 to 1998, remains a member of its board, and is a longtime Florida lobbyist for the group.
On February 26, Martin was returning from a local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancée when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated community. According to recordings, Zimmerman called 911 to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle followed, ending with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Police have said that because Zimmerman stated that he had acted in self-defense, he could not be arrested under the "Stand Your Ground" law, while experts have stated that the statute may prevent Zimmerman's prosecution. This has resulted in a public outcry and a Department of Justice investigation.
"Most legislation is written by lobbyists, legislators and bill-drafters," Hammer said. "In most cases, legislation comes about as a result of some action that causes legislators to believe that there is a need for remedial legislation. NRA did help draft the Castle Doctrine Law and [former Florida state]Senator [Durell] Peaden was the one that came to us and said we have a bad situation here and we need to do something about it."
In 2005, Florida Today reporter Paul Flemming reported on the "Stand Your Ground" legislation before it was passed, writing that the NRA "wrote the bill."
Asked again last week about the NRA's role, Flemming -- now at the Tallahassee Democrat and still covering the statehouse - reiterated that statement.
"There is no doubt about it. Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist here, former president of the NRA wrote the legislation and she would tell you so," Flemming told Media Matters.
Asked how he discovered that the NRA had co-written the legislation, Flemming stated: "She told me, I talked to her. I speak to Marion and certainly spoke to Sen. Peaden regularly. The observation is that they have their legislative priorities every year and that was one." He added, "All of the gun laws that come through the Florida legislature, she writes."
Hammer recalled that the law came about after an incident following Hurricane Ivan in 2004 in which 77-year-old James Workman shot an intruder who broke into his RV after the deadly storm. Months before the statute was passed, prosecutors declined to press charges against Workman, saying he had legally acted in self-defense.
"Yes, we helped," Hammer said. "Sen. Peaden and I had a conversation, he was outraged at what had happened and ... they had not decided whether to charge this man. He says, 'what are we going to do about it?' I said 'we can work on some legislation to deal with this issue.' It is not an uncommon problem."
She added, "he came to us, we helped draft it, he took it, he put it in the bill drafting, it came out of bill drafting, it came through the process, it passed."
Asked if the final version differed much from the original bill she helped draft, Hammer said: "I don't remember. I know that we supported the legislation. If the bill did not do what the people of the state of Florida needed to do, it would not have passed."
Hammer did note that she does not believe the law applies to the Zimmerman case.
Contacted by Media Matters, Sen. Peaden confirmed that the NRA "participated," in crafting the law, but said he wrote the law.
Asked to specify how Hammer was involved, Peaden said, "I don't remember, that was seven years ago. They're lobbyists, they lobby laws and things like that."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the law in the Florida House of Representative, declined to comment on the legislation, his office said Monday.
Flemming also described Hammer and the NRA as playing a major part in writing other pro-gun laws in Florida.
"She is a very powerful lobbyist in the state house in Tallahassee and they pick a number of priorities in the legislature to go after," Flemming explained. "One was a couple of years ago, guns at work, they had the concealed carry previous to that and that year, in 2005, they wanted to take on the Castle Doctrine."
Flemming later added, "There was a bill last year, more recent memory, sponsored by the guy who now holds Durell's seat in the state senate, Greg Evers, to prohibit doctors from asking patients if they owned guns or not. That again was an NRA-sponsored, Marion Hammer-written piece of legislation."
Following the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin troubling questions about the role of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" legislation have emerged. The legislation expanded the circumstances in which people can claim use of deadly force was defensive, which some in the media have suggested could undermine an effort to prosecute Martin's killer George Zimmerman. Sanford, Florida's police chief has said that because Zimmerman claimed self-defense, under that statute he could not be arrested.
No figure has done more to promote the gun lobby's push to expand the boundaries of the legal use of deadly force than former NRA president and chief Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, who was the force behind the passage of Florida's statute. Martin's death hasn't caused her to rethink the wisdom of "Stand Your Ground." On Tuesday, she told the Palm Beach Post that Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) would "waste time" if he were review the legislation:
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed for the law, agreed [with Rep. Dennis Baxley's defense of the bill]. She said the call for action is premature, because the law allows an arrest to take place after an investigation. "So for law enforcement to rush to judgment just because they are being stampeded by emotionalism would be a violation of law," she said.
"This law is not about one incident. It's about protecting the right of law-abiding people to protect themselves when they are attacked. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the law. And if the governor wants to waste time looking at it he can knock himself out."
Hammer isn't just any NRA lobbyist. According to the NRA, Hammer "exemplifies activism" to the extent the organization annually gives out a "Marion P. Hammer Woman Of Distinction Award." Beyond her support for what critics have dubbed "shoot first laws," Hammer has expressed extremist positions and used inflammatory rhetoric during other legislative battles.
In 2005 Hammer successfully pushed "Stand Your Ground" through the Florida legislature, which was then the first state in the nation to pass such legislation. During the debate over the bill's passage, she repeatedly mocked opponents for engaging in "hysterics." The NRA's chief lobbyist Chris Cox was quick to credit Hammer's lobbying effort. In the NRA's American Hunter magazine Cox wrote:
Thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of our own former President Marion P. Hammer, law-abiding Floridians may now stand their ground and defend themselves against attack by violent criminals without fear of criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit.
Later that year, Hammer presented Florida's legislation before a task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC subsequently adopted Florida's bill as model legislation which they promoted throughout the country using their network of conservative state legislators. The effort was quite successful. According to the Legal Community Against Gun Violence, 24 states currently have "Florida-style" laws, with seven others having similar laws that allow expanded self-defense claims in specified locations.
Hammer's lobby efforts also attracted controversy last year as she successfully pushed NRA-authored Florida legislation that prohibited pediatricians from asking their patients about guns kept in their homes. The bill muzzled the ability of doctors to ask children and their parents about gun safety issues such as proper storage and other issues related to children's access to guns. Hammer objected complaining that pediatrician questions about guns constituted "privacy intrusions." The original version of the bill "fined physicians up to $5 million and sentenced them to up to five years in prison" before the Florida legislature made amendments.
Health care experts warned the bill would result in "more children injured and killed from firearms." In September U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, an appointee of George W. Bush, blocked enforcement of Hammer's doctor gun-related gag order on First Amendment grounds.
Other controversial actions by Hammer have been documented by MeetTheNRA.org, a website maintained by the Educational Fund To Stop Gun Violence. Hammer has pushed to allow guns on university campuses and keep them from being banned in hospitals and nursing homes. In 1996, Hammer joked in a New York Times profile that a possible solution to ending the gun debate was to "get rid of all liberals."
In 1988, Hammer distributed a newsletter to members of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida--an NRA affiliate organization--accusing state legislators who favored closing loopholes in a concealed carry law of supporting "a modern-day Gestapo movement." One of the loopholes the legislation sought to correct allowed violent individuals to possess firearms pending a criminal judgment. Republican State Senator John Grant called for Hammer's resignation and said, "I think Marion Hammer has lost any effectiveness that she might have or any credibility she might have with legislators on both sides of the issue." Republican State Senator Malcolm Beard added, "I never have been for gun control. But this letter from a lobbyist is filled with half-truths." The Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Criminal Committee, Bob Johnson, said Hammer possessed, "the lowest standard of integrity I have ever seen for a lobbyist in Tallahassee."
On Monday, Media Matters noted the role of controversial Florida gun laws in the shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Martin was shot and killed as he returned to his father's house by Zimmerman, who told a 9-11 dispatcher that Martin was "a real suspicious guy."
Zimmerman has thus far successfully claimed the shooting was defensive amidst rapidly growing national attention to the incident and news that the FBI and Department of Justice have begun an investigation of the shooting. Thanks to Florida's NRA-backed "Stand Your Ground" legislation that expands the circumstances when people can claim self-defense, media outlets are questioning if the legislation effectively immunizes Zimmerman from prosecution.
While the NRA appears to have avoided discussing Martin's death, in 2005 the NRA's top leaders were breezily dismissing concerns about "Stand Your Ground" legislation.
Former NRA president and chief Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer went on Democracy Now to defend the legislation. Hammer boasted that she would debate Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Arthur Mayhoe again in 10 years after his concerns about the "Stand Your Ground" legislation were proven false.
HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe, let's do this again in ten years where you will be proven wrong again, just as you are now proven wrong, when you said the same kinds of things when right to carry passed in 1987. It is nothing but emotional hysterics.
NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox did a victory lap after the passage of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" legislation in the NRA's American Hunter magazine. Touting the legislation as a "critical turning point in what has become our proactive approach to gun-rights activism" Cox dismissed concerns raised in a The Washington Post article on the legislation. Cox:
As NRA and its grassroots affiliates move forward with this initiative, no doubt you'll be hearing more about it-and not just from those of us committed to firearm freedom. The usual suspects among the anti-gun media are already suggesting what's become an all-too-familiar slant from them, that the law could give rise to a "Wild West revival, a return to the days of 'shoot first and ask questions later,'" (The Washington Post, April 26). [American Hunter 07/01/2005, retrieved via Nexis 3/20/2012]
Speaking to the Christian Science Monitor, NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre argued that these laws "make it very clear that the good guy has the advantage, not the bad guy." In the article referenced by Cox, LaPierre boasted that Florida's legislation was the "first step of a multi-state strategy."