Last week we noted that the National Rifle Association's (NRA) effort to push the Florida-style "Kill at Will" laws that protected Trayvon Martin's killer from prosecution had continued unabated in the wake of Martin's death.
The gun lobby has given no indication of backing down in the face of the revelation of their role in promoting these laws. In fact, BloombergBusinessweek reports that the group spent the one-month anniversary of Martin's death trying to pass "Kill at Will" legislation in Alaska:
On the one-month anniversary of Trayvon Martin's killing this week, the National Rifle Association was in Alaska lobbying for a law like the one at the center of the Florida shooting.
The gun rights group urged supporters to contact senators on the "stand your ground" bill, calling it "vital self- defense legislation." A lobbyist worked the halls in gun-friendly Juneau, telling at least one senator that the highly publicized slaying of the unarmed black teen in Sanford, Florida, is "irrelevant" to the debate in Alaska, according to Senator Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat.
Former NRA president and Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer has acknowledged that the NRA helped draft that state's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law, and the group was instrumental in its 2005 passage. Shortly after, Hammer appeared before the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and successfully urged them to adopt Florida's law as model legislation. Together, NRA and ALEC pushed for the adoption of similar laws in dozens of states.
The tragic circumstances of Martin's killing have forced these laws into the spotlight. As BloombergBusinessweek notes, this has led to several setbacks for the gun lobby:
As the 4-million-member NRA continued its push in Alaska, it faced mounting challenges in other states. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick pledged yesterday to veto a similar bill if it made it to his desk. Legislation in New York and Iowa stalled in committees as lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and other states said they would try to repeal laws already on the books. A Florida-like measure in Minnesota was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton on March 5, before the Martin case was widely covered in the national media.
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent is well known for his inflammatory rhetoric. In a recent interview with NRA News Nugent -- known by the moniker 'Motor City Madman" -- aimed his typical style of vile insults at none other the Motor City itself, Detroit, Michigan.
During a discussion about Nugent's fondness for his current home of Texas, Nugent offered up a diatribe blaming "liberal policies", "pimps" "whores" and "welfare brats" for the decline of Detroit, which he labeled a "canker sore."
NUGENT: My birth state is Michigan. I was raised where neighbors helped neighbors and people got up early and put their heart and soul into being the best that they can be. And I think we can all look to my beloved birth city of Detroit as example of what liberal policies will do to greatness. Detroit is a canker sore compared to this glowing city on the Detroit River that I was raised in and it's direct result of the Mayor Coleman Young and the Jennifer Granholms of the world and the tragedy of pimps and whores and welfare brats being blood suckers and destroying the greatest city in the world.
Nugent went on to say that there are still "wonderful people" living in Detroit.
Last year, Nugent wrote that "[b]eing poor is largely a choice, a daily, if not hourly decision," and concluded, "we need to punish poor decisions instead of rewarding them. We cannot continue to offer a safety blanket to those Americans who make poor choices. The fewer social welfare programs, the better."
From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown:
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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."
In 2008, in the wake of mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted model legislation proposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) that would have allowed any concealed carry permit holder to bring guns on college campuses.
The model legislation not only expressly permitted the carrying of concealed handguns on college campuses, but banned colleges and universities from restricting such activity. At the time, Utah was the only state in the nation that either expressly permitted guns on campus or banned public institutions from making their own restrictions.
In recent days, the media has shined a spotlight on ALEC's efforts to help the NRA promote Florida's "Kill at Will" self-defense law across the country. The NRA, reportedly a "longtime funder" of ALEC, presented the shadowy group with "proposed model legislation based on" Florida's law in August 2005. That model bill was endorsed by ALEC and distributed to its network of conservative legislative members, and similar measures were subsequently passed in more than 20 states.
Similarly, in May 2008, ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force "unanimously adopted a model "Campus Personal Protection Act," which the NRA says was "[b]rought forth" by their lobbying arm. The model bill was adopted by ALEC 30 days later with no objection from its Board of Directors.
The model bill contains sections to repeal state laws banning valid permit holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus, and further states:
Section 3. No governing body of a college or university or postsecondary vocational technical school shall have the authority to establish rules or regulations limiting or abridging the ability of a person issued a valid concealed handgun permit recognized by this state to lawfully carry a concealed handgun on its campus. However, governing bodies of educational institutions may establish rules or regulations relating to the storage of firearms in campus dormitories.
According to a November 2008 report from the American Associate of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), "17 states attempted major reforms to campus weapon laws in 2008"; many of those efforts predated ALEC's endorsement of model legislation. According to the advocacy group Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, bills to increase access to firearms on college campuses were introduced "in at least 23 states" during the 2011 legislative session, passing in two.
AASCU "discourages the passage of new state legislation that would overturn or weaken concealed weapons bans on campus," stating that the "the safety and security of all members of the campus community must remain paramount." Likewise, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators says that there is "no credible evidence to suggest that the presence of students carrying concealed weapons would reduce violence on our college campuses" and that "concealed carry laws have the potential to dramatically increase violence on college and university campuses."
From the March 23 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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In recent days, a growing number of national pundits, columnists, and politicians have weighed in on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood watchdog vigilante. Much of the commentary has centered around the controversial legislation that has kept George Zimmerman from being arrested: Florida's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law, known by its critics as "Shoot First," which has the effect of laying a heavy burden of proof not on the perpetrators of gun violence, but on prosecutors seeking justice for its (sometimes dead) victims.
Among the voices absent from the national debate over Florida's law are those of the major corporations and industry groups who provide the bulk of the funding for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy right-wing organization that adopted Florida's statute as a model for states around the country.
As Media Matters has reported, after Florida passed its law in April 2005, ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force and Board of Directors ratified nearly identical Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as their new gold standard and began promoting it through their nationwide network of conservative state legislators. The National Rifle Association (NRA) played a key role in both the bill's passage in Florida and its subsequent acceptance by ALEC, of which NRA is reportedly "a longtime funder."
Media Matters reached out to the corporations and groups like PhRMA and Verizon that were reportedly represented on ALEC's Private Enterprise Board at the time the organization adopted the model legislation, asking if they regretted their association with the bill. Every one denied responsibility, declined comment, or did not respond to repeated inquiries.
In the nearly seven years since the model legislation was adopted, at least 23 states have reportedly passed Florida-style "Shoot First" laws.
From the March 23 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
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From the March 23 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchel Reports:
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From the March 23 edition of NOW with Alex Wagner:
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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."
From the March 21 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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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."
The legislation apparently preventing the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer was reportedly adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as model legislation that the shadowy group has spent years promoting across the country with the help of their allies in the National Rifle Association.
Formed in 1973 by conservative activists including Paul Weyrich and state legislators like then-Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, ALEC has earned infamy throughout the progressive movement for its ability to promote model legislation favorable to its corporate funders through statehouses across the country.
Legal experts have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law may prevent George Zimmerman from ever being successfully prosecuted for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has claimed that he acted in self-defense, and court precedent indicates that the State has the heavy burden of disproving this in order to win a conviction.
Florida's statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC's Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC's Civil Justice Task in August 2005 -- just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature -- and approved by its board of directors the following month.
Since the 2005 passage of Florida's law, similar statutes have been passed in 16 other states. This was no accident. In a 2008 interview with NRA News, ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained how his organization works with the NRA to push similar legislation through its network of conservative state legislators:
HOUGH: We are a very pro-Second Amendment organization. In fact, last session, I'll get off-topic here real quick, but some of the things that we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine. We worked with the NRA on that, that's one of our model bills that we have states introduce.
The National Rifle Association's effort to pass Florida-style "Stand Your Ground" laws in other states has continued unabated in the wake of the February 26 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was confronted, shot, and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Since Martin's tragic death, media outlets have noted the role of the state's laws in providing Zimmerman with a legal self-defense claim that may prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted. According to Mother Jones, Florida courts have found that under that statute, a "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."
16 states have reportedly passed similar legislation since Florida's 2005 adoption of the statute, often with the strong support of the NRA. This is no coincidence; the NRA has been affiliated for years with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has pushed model legislation expanding when it is legally permissible to use deadly force through its network of conservative state legislators.
The controversial circumstances of Martin's death have not slowed the NRA's effort to push for the passage of such laws: The organization's lobbying arm spent the weeks following his death promoting similar statutes in Iowa, Alaska, and Minnesota.
- On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state Senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
- On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state Senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5, March 8, and February 29.
- On March 5, NRA-ILA executive director Chris W. Cox criticized Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton for vetoing House File 1467, which Cox said "would have removed the duty to retreat for crime victims currently mandated under Minnesota state law and precluded victims from facing prosecution for lawfully defending their lives." NRA-ILA also urged supporters to contact Dayton and urge him not to veto the bill on March 1 and February 29.
The NRA has referred to Florida's statute as "good law, casting a common-sense light onto the debate over the right of self-defense." The organization is unlikely to be satisfied until that "common-sense light" has been spread across the country, regardless of what tragedies occur in the meantime.