A Look Back At The NRA's Effort To Pass Florida's Stand Your Ground Law

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.”

Hammer and LaPierre were quoted extensively in defense of “Stand Your Ground” in media reports about the legislation in 2005:

Responding to fliers issued by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence warning people about the then-unique Florida laws, Hammer told The New York Times the fliers were “silly” and that “Tourists have nothing to fear in Florida unless they are coming here to break into our homes, to carjack our vehicles or attack us on the streets.”

Hammer told The Associated Press that under Florida's “Stand Your Ground” legislation, “Now, the law and their government is on the side of law-abiding people and victims, rather than on the side of criminals.”

Speaking to The Tampa Bay Times Hammer called concerns about the legislation “nonsense” and framed the legislation as necessary to counter “activist judges and prosecutors.”

On CNN, Hammer argued that, “the message to criminals is going to be -- you break into a home, you run the risk of being shot. You attack people on the street, you run the risk of being shot.”

Hammer told The Seattle Times the legislation was necessary because “No law-abiding citizen should be forced to retreat from an attacker.”

In an USA Today article, LaPierre argued the law would help crime victims: “Crime victims now have the law on their side, if they feel their lives are threatened, to do what they deem necessary in that split second to save their lives.”

According to articles in The Detroit Free Press and Newsday, LaPierre pledged to make “Stand Your Ground” legislation a political issue if politicians went against the NRA: “Politicians are putting their career in jeopardy if they oppose this type of bill.” [Detroit Free Press 9/12/2005, Newsday 4/28/2005 retrieved via LexisNexis 3/21/2012]

Stetson University law professor Robert Batey was less confident than the gun lobby's leadership, saying “If you're in a state that's passed one of these laws, any time you're in a potential confrontation you'll have to think about 'Will the fellow on the other side misunderstand my anger and pull out a gun?"

Hammer, Cox, and LaPierre dismissed such concerns and continued to take their “proactive approach to gun-rights activism” across the nation.