The Tampa Bay Times released hundreds of emails between NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and the Florida Department of Agriculture on Friday, revealing a close relationship between one of the most influential champions for gun rights and the agency tasked with regulating the nearly 2 million Floridians who carry concealed weapons.
Hammer, now 79 years old, has for pushed some of the most dangerous gun laws through the Florida legislature, including big, controversial laws like Stand Your Ground and smaller statues, like the one that prevented Florida mayors from implementing their own municipal gun regulations after this year’s horrific school shooting in Parkland.
Concealed weapons licenses, in most states, are regulated by law enforcement agencies. Florida, however, is different; the agriculture department is in charge of licensing and Hammer says she is the reason why.
“It was just me,” Hammer told the Times. “Just NRA.”
According to the newly released emails, Hammer’s influence goes far beyond gun legislation, underscoring the iron grip she has on the agriculture department.
In emails to agency officials, Hammer was able to control a variety of topics at the department and was rarely ever told no.
“Who on earth was arrogant and antigun enough to authorize this?” she asks in one email.
” … put this at the top of the priority list and do it right away,” she orders in another.
After the department of agriculture denied someone’s renewal for a concealed weapons license, Hammer sent an email demanding to know what happened.
“Guys, this is your first test from me since Ken moved to his new position,” Hammer wrote, referring to an agency official. “Do him proud and find out what the heck is going on.”
Almost immediately, Paul Pagano, the assistant director in the department’s licensing division, replied, “Ms. Hammer, I’ll research it first thing in the morning and provide answers.”
Even though the application wasn’t notarized correctly, Pagano went ahead and approved it anyway, because Hammer had asked him to.
Any changes the department’s concealed weapons program are sent to Hammer “for your consideration” or “for your review” before even the legislature can look at them. On the off-chance any new proposals or changes don’t go by Hammer first, she makes sure she gets her hands on them.
“I understand some of your people are walking around some new language dealing with (concealed weapons) licensing and Tax Collectors fees,” Hammer wrote an agency official. “Care to share it with me?”
Most of Hammer’s ability to develop such a close relationship with agriculture department officials and state legislators has had a lot to do with the Republicans in charge. With former agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam (R) out after a failed run for governor, there is a grassroots movement for a progressive change in the department, especially as the state reels from toxic algae blooms. Recent polling shows Democrat Nikki Fried leading the race for commissioner.
Unfortunately for Hammer, Fried, a former medical marijuana industry lobbyist, has said she would address the state’s notoriously lax gun laws.
“One helps sick and dying Floridians and is over-regulated,” Fried says of medical marijuana in a campaign ad. “And the other one is used to terrorize our schools and our communities, and is barely regulated at all.”
Despite all its lobbying, the NRA has recently found itself in a bit of financial trouble, losing tens of millions of dollars in membership dues since the 2016 election. The gun lobby is reportedly more than $30 million in debt, according to an audit obtained by OpenSecrets. Its troubles are most likely linked to the dozens of companies that ended relationships with the group following the Parkland shooting, along with recent news that the NRA has been connected to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and accused of illegal coordination with a Republican senate candidate.