And she was at the center of two of the NRA’s newest bills to come from Florida: measures that would restrict doctors from asking patients about gun possession and require businesses to let employees keep guns in their parked cars at work. In both cases, the NRA prevailed over other powerful lobby groups.
“The NRA gets what it wants,” said Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which successfully fended off the guns-to-work bill for years before losing in 2008.
At one point, Wilson and others recall, Hammer tangled in a closed-door session with top business lobbyists and Republican lawmakers, lecturing them about constitutional protections for guns. One of the lobbyists told her that businesses could prevent workers from taking anything onto a company’s property, even a Bible. Hammer relayed the Bible remark to a reporter, who wrote an article, prompting evangelical Christian groups to jump into the fray and join the NRA in opposing the business community.
The NRA’s clout was on display again in 2011 when the group bested another powerful GOP-friendly lobby — the Florida Medical Association — and helped win overwhelming passage of the measure restricting what doctors can ask patients.
Jeff Scott, general counsel for the medical association, recalled his surprise upon seeing the original NRA-backed legislation, which would have made it a felony for doctors to ask patients about gun ownership, punishable by jail time and a fine of up to $5 million. Scott brought a copy to show one of the physician group’s most loyal supporters in the House, a doctor, asking, “Can you believe this?”
“Yeah, I’m going to vote for it,” said the lawmaker, Paige Kreegel, a Republican from southwest Florida, according to both men. “Looking around here, I don’t see anybody who wants to cross the NRA.”
Scott then decided to enter into negotiations with Hammer, persuading her and her allies in the legislature to eliminate the criminal provisions and add language allowing doctors to discuss guns with their patients if they deem it medically necessary.
“If it was most other organizations, we would have gone to the mat and refused to compromise,” Scott said.
National medical groups were appalled even by the scaled-back version and challenged the compromise in court. A federal judge this year declared the law unconstitutional and blocked it. But the ruling was appealed by the state and is under review.
Wisconsin, long a holdout in the move toward looser gun laws, has become a focus for activists on both sides of the debate. With the help of a newly empowered Republican Party and centrist Democratic legislators, the NRA has begun to score major wins there, including a 2011 right-to-carry law that gun-control advocates consider one of the nation’s more permissive such laws because it made obtaining a permit so easy.
Prominent Democrats in the state, who had long fought the NRA on the concealed-carry initiative, marveled at the group’s ability to apply pressure.
“They can produce a small army for Election Day, and every elected official knows it,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, a newly elected Democratic congressman, who was a state legislator when the tide turned in Wisconsin.
The NRA’s newfound clout in Wisconsin has seldom been more apparent than it was last week when an effort to ban loaded guns in the public gallery collapsed. The issue arose as GOP lawmakers sought to ensure order in the Capitol, after raucous protests in 2011 over collective bargaining, by barring cellphones, notebooks, laptops and a variety of other items in the gallery.
State Rep. Leon Young (D-Milwaukee), a veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, stood to call for an additional restriction — on loaded weapons. But Democrats backed away from the proposal out of concern that a roll call could become a key vote for the NRA — meaning the group would use the issue when deciding how to grade lawmakers on their report cards. A low grade could be politically fatal to Democrats from the state’s many rural districts.
The experience left Young pondering the prospects in Congress for Obama’s new gun-control proposals.
“Given my experience with the NRA in Wisconsin,” he said, “I’d advise the president to seek progress through executive order and not count on any action from the legislative branch.”
Sari Horwitz and Alice Crites contributed to this report.